Tribute to Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio
(The Philippine Star) - October 21, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Thank you for this incredible opportunity to briefly speak about my great friend and partner, the Honorable Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.

 As a developing nation in a regional landscape that is dramatically changing, our country faces major challenges. One of these major challenges is China’s expansionist claims in the South China Sea, which do not only threaten, but have already encroached on waters that rightfully belong to the Philippines under international law.

While the goal of national development is primarily a task for Filipinos, its fulfillment does not solely lie within our country’s borders.  The South China Sea dispute concretizes the need to engage with other nations to find a collective solution to the problems which confront our country.

The Philippine Government strives to manage foreign ties but the Government alone cannot solve our nation’s problems. In fact, the Government may also need the help of its own citizens given the enormity of the challenges of our country. Thus, we should give proper recognition to our patriots, who dedicate their lives to our country.

Today, we have with us a person who has devoted his life to a patriotic service, Justice Antonio Carpio. His acts of patriotism, though sometimes criticized as unwarranted, have proven to be invaluable to the country. His example inspires us to promote and protect the national interest and, as such, Justice Carpio fully deserves the respect, admiration and recognition from Filipinos like us who are gathered here today.

Justice Carpio has been the staunchest defender of our country’s maritime rights and entitlements under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). As early as 2011, he already anticipated that Beijing was embarking on a path of unilateral action to establish de facto control over almost the entirety of the South China Sea.

He moreover argued that, under the circumstances, the best option for the Philippines is to bring China to an UNCLOS Tribunal where China’s naval power does not count. The Government eventually heeded his advice and this resulted in a resounding victory for our country as embodied in the Award of The South China Sea Arbitration (PCA Case No. 2013-19).

Justice Carpio was eventually recognized as one of the key architects of The South China Sea Arbitration. As part of his personal advocacy, Justice Carpio undertook rigorous research and collated voluminous resources on the South China Sea dispute that were submitted and eventually reinforced the Philippines’ case during the arbitration proceedings.

Before the Philippines filed its case against China in 2013, Justice Carpio penned the Supreme Court decision in Magallona v. Ermita (G.R No. 187167, August 16, 2011) which upheld the Philippine Baselines Law consistent with UNCLOS. The Magallona case became an important precursor to The South China Sea Arbitration because it made the Philippines UNCLOS-compliant and thus established its credibility before the UNCLOS Tribunal.

Furthermore, Justice Carpio exerted remarkable efforts to reach out to people, not only to raise the public’s awareness on the lawfulness of the country’s position in the South China Sea, but also to urge people to fight for what is right.

In 2015, the Department of Foreign Affairs sponsored Justice Carpio on a world lecture tour on the South China Sea dispute. Justice Carpio presented the Philippines’ perspective on the dispute before think tanks and universities in 30 cities covering 17 countries.

In his invaluable book entitled “The South China Sea Dispute: Philippine Sovereign Rights and and Jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea,” Justice Carpio stresses the central import of international law, the peaceful resolution of disputes and upholding the rights of all nations, large and small.

The success of the Philippines in its international arbitration case will stand forever as our nation’s contribution in defense of the rule of law in managing international relations.

Justice Carpio offers us a valuable lesson: Responsible members of the international community should always strive to manage their relations in a friendly manner whenever possible to the mutual benefit of all within a framework of international law and comity.

However, when a dispute cannot be resolved through this friendly mechanism, the resort should be the peaceful resolution of disputes through a neutral Tribunal which will apply international law. In the South China Sea dispute, the Philippines successfully demonstrated how arbitration plays an important role in international relations.

It is our earnest hope that with Justice Carpio’s invaluable contribution, coupled with a fine-tuned moral compass and political will, our country will be able to make progress in giving our countrymen what they deserve while pursuing stability and peace in the world.

As an archipelagic country, the waters that surround our islands are essential to the life of our nation. These waters sustain our countrymen and contribute to the socio-economic development of our country.

I am one with Justice Carpio in saying that we should not gamble our country’s waters on the uncertain prospects of monetary gain. Our waters not only belongs to us, but to our children and to generations of Filipinos yet unborn. As enshrined under our Constitution and as a matter of national honor, we Filipinos have a solemn duty to protect and preserve our country’s rights.

As a self-respecting country, we owe it to ourselves not to sit back and let our fate be decided by other nations like China. As in the UNCLOS Case, we showed that we can take action on our own.

As Filipinos, we can devise creative and viable means to defend and preserve our national patrimony – including our West Philippine Sea – even in the face of a superpower like China.

On the eve of his retirement in the Supreme Court, Justice Carpio has assured us that he will remain a strong defender of Philippine territory and maritime entitlements in the South China Sea. As an extraordinary jurist, Justice Carpiois also a staunch defender of the Constitution, which serves to defend and protect the waters of the Philippines for posterity. His example inspires us to be patriots each day of our lives and to do what is right in the face of adversity.

Our country owes an incalculable debt of gratitude to Justice Carpio. We salute and proffer to him our deepest trust and highest esteem.

*      *      *

(Speech delivered at the joint membership meeting of the Makati Business Club, Management Association of the Philippines, Judicial Reform Initiative and Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines on Oct. 18, 2019)

-  Ambassador Albert Del Rosario Chairman, Stratbase ADR Institute

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