Only China to blame for PH loss of Panatag, says ex-DFA chief
MANILA, Philippines — There is no one to blame but China when the Philippines lost Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in 2012, according to former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, who was serving under then-President Benigno S. Aquino III during the West Philippine Sea stalemate, a subject of renewed finger-pointing under the Duterte administration.
Del Rosario on Friday issued a statement narrating the events that led to China’s continued occupation of the shoal some 220 km off the coast of Zambales, where it is also known as Bajo de Masinloc.
No hand in order
His explanation came as President Rodrigo Duterte and Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. continued to blame the Aquino administration for the loss, when it withdrew Philippine ships during the tense standoff. The President had gone as far as saying that both Del Rosario and retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio should be investigated for it.
Carpio has since maintained he had no participation in the government order to withdraw the ships, as he was not part of the executive branch at the time. On Friday, Del Rosario also reiterated that he did not have a hand in the ships’ withdrawal.
“First, we would like to highlight the fact that the secretary of Foreign Affairs is not part of the chain of command present in the military, the Navy or the Coast Guard. This is a basic principle that any good soldier or naval officer knows. Under the law, the mandate of the secretary of Foreign Affairs is in the conduct of diplomacy and foreign relations. Thus, in the 2012 Scarborough standoff, the secretary of Foreign Affairs has no authority to order the withdrawal of ships from Scarborough Shoal,” he said.
He said China “breached” an agreement that was brokered by the United States for both Manila and Beijing to simultaneously withdraw their vessels from the shoal.
“[N]o Filipino is to blame for having the word of honor in following the agreement for mutual withdrawal. It was China which illegally seized Scarborough Shoal from our country. As mentioned, in 2012, we withdrew our one or two ships from Scarborough Shoal while China deceitfully breached the US-brokered agreement by not withdrawing their more than 30 ships,’’ he said.
Del Rosario said the US became a mediator during the standoff after they realized the futility of having bilateral talks with China. At that time, he said, they were talking with then Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing and the Chinese foreign affairs ministry.
“Due to China’s duplicity, China remains the illegal occupant of Scarborough Shoal—a continuing and open violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Philippines. On the 2012 Scarborough incident, China is to blame, not our fellow countrymen,’’ said Del Rosario, who now chairs the think tank Stratbase ADR Institute.
He expressed hope that with about a year left before Mr. Duterte steps down from power, “this remaining period will not be wasted on blaming Filipinos regarding the 2012 Scarborough standoff.”
“Instead, the remaining months of President Duterte’s term should be spent on what our Constitution mandates: the enforcement of the arbitral award and protection of the West Philippine Sea for the sake of the present and future generations of Filipinos,” he said.
He was referring to the 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling that favored the Philippines and rejected China’s sweeping claims over the South China Sea, in a case filed by the Aquino administration after the loss of Panatag.
— CHRISTINE AVENDAÑO
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.