Carpio vows to pursue stance on West Philippine Sea row

Edu Punay, Marvin Sy - The Philippine Star
Carpio said he believes that fighting for sovereignty of the country is more important than being appointed to the top Supreme Court (SC) post.

MANILA, Philippines — Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio vowed yesterday to pursue his stance on the country’s territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea that has been contrary to the position of the Duterte administration – even if it would cost him a possible appointment as chief justice.

Carpio said he believes that fighting for sovereignty of the country is more important than being appointed to the top Supreme Court (SC) post.

“What is more important for the nation is that we preserve our sovereignty and sovereign rights because if we lose this, we lose that forever. That’s far more important than any position,” Carpio said in an interview with CNN Philippines.

“That’s far more important than the presidency. I mean, the President can come and go, but our sovereignty should remain forever with us,” the most senior SC justice stressed.

In the same interview, Carpio stood firm in his belief that the government should file another arbitration case against China over the reported continued harassment of Filipino fishermen and destruction of coral reefs in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, in violation of the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in 2016.

He reiterated his suggestion for the administration to seek damages from China for economic losses of Filipino fishermen.

Carpio said the government should not just accept China’s offer of “goodwill” in the contested shoal

“I’m worried. If we accept their narrative, we will be giving up the legal right to be there. Whether it’s goodwill or not, it is immaterial because the tribunal said it is a common fishing ground,” he warned.

“What the tribunal was saying is we are not ruling as to who owns the shoal, because that’s a territorial dispute and we don’t have the jurisdiction over that. But we have jurisdiction over maritime disputes, which includes fishing rights,” he pointed out.

Carpio explained that Filipino fishermen not being allowed by the Chinese to enter the lagoon to fish is clearly a violation of the PCA ruling.

Carpio welcomed the commitment of Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua to conduct an investigation on Chinese Coast Guard personnel allegedly harassing Filipino fishermen by taking their catch and mete sanctions if found guilty.

But he also warned the government against Beijing’s intention.

“They have promised to discipline their personnel and that it will not happen again. That’s a good start, but we should be careful that their premise is they are doing it out of goodwill,” he added.

Carpio earlier clarified that while the government may file a protest and seek damages against China, it cannot invoke sovereign rights over the contested area in the West Philippine Sea just yet.

Carpio, an expert on South China Sea issues and part of the Philippine team that won the arbitration case against China, explained that the decision of the PCA did not settle the territorial dispute between the two nations over the shoal due to lack of jurisdiction on the matter.

This means the Philippine government cannot invoke territorial rights over the shoal because it has not been declared part of the nation’s territory. 

Stop kowtowing to China 

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, for his part, urged the Duterte administration to review its policy of appeasement and accommodation with regard to China, saying this has not resulted in any improvement on the economic relations between the two countries.

Speaking at a forum held at the Senate yesterday, Drilon aired his support for the chamber’s review of the administration’s foreign policy in light of its seeming lack of response against the incursions of China in the territories claimed by the Philippines, the militarization of the West Philippine Sea and harassment of Filipino fishermen in Panatag Shoal. – With Jaime Laude

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