After ‘5 long years of inaction,’ Carpio lists 5 ways to defend the West Philippine Sea

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
After â5 long years of inaction,â Carpio lists 5 ways to defend the West Philippine Sea
This handout photo taken April 14, 2021, and received from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) April 15, Philippine coast guard personnel aboard rubber boats and displaying a Philippine flag, patrol past Chinese vessels at Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef in the West Philippine Sea.
PCG / Releaed

MANILA, Philippines — Nearly five years ago, President Rodrigo Duterte said he was "setting aside" Manila's arbitral win in the West Philippine Sea to pursue closer ties with Beijing, citing changing politics in Southeast Asia. 

Since then, the regional power has repeatedly deployed its ships into the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, demonstrating its continued refusal to recognize the arbitral ruling that invalidated its expansive claims in the South China Sea, part of which is the West Philippine Sea. 

Within the same period of time, hundreds of ships anchored in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea have dumped raw sewage causing damage that  "is visible from space" and will "take decades to recover from," according to a report from US geospatial imagery and data analysis firm Simularity.

During a media forum hosted by emerging opposition coalition 1Sambayan, former Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, who was part of the delegation that represented the Philippines at the United Nations-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, said there are five steps that can be taken to reverse "five long years of inaction" by the current administration. 

Withdraw authorization for Chinese fishermen to fish in Philippine EEZ 

Three years into his term, Duterte announced that he entered into an agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping allowing China to trawl in Philippine waters. 

The deal, according to Duterte, was that China would be allowed to fish in Recto (Reed) Bank, which is fully within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone. In return, the naval power would no longer block Filipino fishermen from accessing Scarborough or Panatag Shoal, a traditional fishing ground off Zambales.

Malacañang previously said the agreement was undocumented but legally binding — now it denies that such a deal exists. 

Carpio said any authorization given by Duterte for China to trawl in Philippine waters must be "immediately" withdrawn as foreign fishermen leave "very little" catch behind for Filipinos. 

"Filipino fishermen and Filipino consumers are suffering because of an unconstitutional policy of President Duterte favoring Chinese fishermen," he said.  

"We now have to import galunggong from China and they get this galunggong from the West Philippine Sea. Our own galunggong. Galunggong is now twice as expensive as chicken." 

READ: Here's why the Philippines is importing galunggong and why it matters | Boycott galunggong from China – group

He also said Duterte had "no authority" to allow China to fish in the West Philippine Sea in the first place. "The Constitution mandates that the nation's marine wealth in the [EEZ] shall be reserved for the exclusive use and enjoyment of Filipino citizens."

Retract Duterte statement that China is in possession of WPS 

Contradicting a claim often made by Duterte, Carpio again emphasized: "China is not in possession of the West Philippine Sea." 

"With his statement, President Duterte is actually discouraging Philippine service contractors from performing their obligations under their service contracts with the Philippine government," the retired justice said. 

"How can they perform their obligations to the Philippine government if China, and not the Philippines, is in possession of the West Philippine Sea?" 

According to Caprio, Recto Bank should replace the Malampaya gas field which supplies 40% of the energy requirement of Luzon and is expected to run out of gas in three to four years. 

He said Recto Bank "has gas reserves more than twice the Malampaya gas field" but is inaccessible to Philippine service contractors because of Duterte's statements. 

"Unless we find a replacement for Malampaya, Luzon will have 12 to 14 hours of rotating brownouts every day two to three or four years from now," he warned. 

Join freedom of navigation exercises 

Carpio said the Philippines can also join freedom of navigation exercises conducted by the US in the West Philippine Sea. 

Freedom of navigation operations are often undertaken as a way to deter adversaries and challenge maritime claims deemed excessive under international law.

FONOPS, Caprio said, "represent the strongest enforcement of the arbitral award because they demonstrate to China and the rest of the world that in the West Philippine Sea, there is an exclusive economic zone of a coastal state." 

He noted that countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Japan, Australia, Canada, India, Germany, and soon the Netherlands, conduct FONOPS in the South China Sea as well. 

Conduct joint patrols with other ASEAN coastal states 

The Philippines can also conduct joint patrols with Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei in each other's EEZs, Carpio said. 

"The joint patrols will enforce the arbitral award by state practice and demonstrate to China and to the world that in the South China Sea, these ASEAN coastal states have their own [EEZs] unimpaired by China's nine-dash line." 

"These joint patrols are peaceful and lawful exercises of sovereign rights and are allowed under [the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea] to protect a coastal state's exclusive right to the living and nonliving resources within its [EEZ]."

The Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia already hold joint patrols in the waters near their maritime boundaries to deter piracy and smuggling. 

File Extended Continental Shelf claim 

Finally, Carpio said, the Philippines can file a 150 nautical mile extended continental shelf claim of the coast of Luzon facing the West Philippine Sea with the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. 

The extended continental shelf will start where the Philippines' 200 nautical mile EEZ in the WPS ends, he added.

"The Philippines can file this extended continental shelf claim unilaterally, just like the extended continental shelf claim that we filed in Benham Rise or Philippine Rise facing the Pacific Ocean."

Filing such a claim, Caprio said, "asserts the existence of a Philippine [EEZ] in the West Philippine Sea and asserts by state practice the arbitral award." 




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