by Rey G. Panaligan
Supreme Court Senior Justice Antonio T. Carpio said yesterday that the Armed Forces headed by President Duterte as commander-in-chief are constitutionally mandated to defend Scarborough or Panatag Shoal as part of Philippine territory.
In a statement, Carpio reminded the President “to avoid any act, statement or declaration that expressly or impliedly waives Philippine sovereignty to any Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea.”
His statement was issued after the President was quoted as saying that he (the President) cannot stop China from implementing its plan to build structures on the disputed Panatag Shoal for now.
The SC magistrate was part of the Philippine delegation that argued before the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in 2015 and has been tapped by President Duterte as consultant in the territorial issues with China.
“Since the Philippines is no match to China militarily,” Carpio said the President can fulfill his constitutional duty “by doing any, some or all” of the following:
- “File a strong formal protest against the Chinese building activity. This is the least the President should do. This is what the Vietnamese did recently when China sent cruise tours to the disputed Paracels.
- “Send the Philippine Navy to patrol Scarborough Shoal. If the Chinese attack Philippine Navy vessels, then invoke the Philippines-United States Mutual Defense Treaty which covers any armed attack on Philippine Navy vessels patrolling in the South China Sea.
- “Ask the United States to declare that Scarborough Shoal is part of Philippine territory for purposes of the Phil-US Mutual Defense Treaty since the Shoal has been part of Philippine territory even during the American colonial period. The US has declared the Senkakus as part of Japanese territory for purposes of the US-Japan Mutual Defense Treaty.
- “Accept the standing US offer to hold joint naval patrols in the South China Sea, which includes Scarborough Shoal. This will demonstrate joint Philippine and US determination to prevent China from building on Scarborough Shoal.
- “Avoid any act, statement or declaration that expressly or impliedly waives Philippine sovereignty to any Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea. This will preserve for future generations of Filipinos their national patrimony in the West Philippine Sea.”
Reports showed that China seized Scarborough Shoal in 2012 after a standoff between Chinese and Filipino vessels. Since then, China has been denying Filipino fishermen access to the Shoal’s rich fishing area.
The UN’s Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in 2015 upheld the major submissions of the Philippines, including the declaration of China’s nine-dash line as contrary to United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas (UNCLOS) and has no basis in law.
The PCA also affirmed Philippines’ stance that China’s move to shoo away Filipino fishermen at the disputed Scarborough Shoal was also unlawful.
It declared that the Mischief Reef, Second Thomas Shoal and Reed Bank as “part of the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of the Philippines, and are not overlapped by any possible entitlement of China.”
At the same time, the PCA held that China violated its obligations under UNCLOS to protect and preserve maritime environment when it built artificial islands in Mischief Reef without necessary permission from the Philippines.