The Duterte administration is using the threat of an unwinnable war against China as a scare tactic to justify its policy of appeasement toward Beijing, two staunch advocates of asserting the country’s rights in the West Philippine Sea said Friday.
Their statements came as a new survey showed that nine out of 10 Filipinos believe the government should assert the country’s right to disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea.
At a forum Friday, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario were particularly concerned over President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to set aside the July 12, 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that ruled in favor of the Philippines against China’s excessive claims in the South China Sea.
“The claim that enforcing the arbitral award means going to war with China, a war the Philippines will surely lose, is utterly false claim, designed to intimidate the Filipino people to submit to the will of China,” Carpio said during a forum on the West Philippine Sea at the UP Bonifacio Global City Auditorium.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines on Friday also said it stood by its petition with the Supreme Court seeking to compel the government to protect the marine resources in the West Philippine Sea.
The statement came as fishermen removed their names from the petition, saying they were being used for political reasons. This caused the Office of the Solicitor General to move to have the case dismissed.
Del Rosario lamented that the government has done nothing to implement the arbitral award and instead it allowed China to deprive the Filipinos of what is theirs by continuing to shelve the tribunal’s decision.
“We are still succumbing to threats of force including threat of war,” Del Rosario said, noting that “war is not even a good option for China” as its economy is heavily reliant on global trade.
“With the recent clearer security guarantee definition provided by the US, it may not be necessary therefore to shrink to China’s threat of war,” the former Foreign Affairs secretary added.
Carpio also bewailed that the Duterte administration has done “absolutely nothing” to enforce the 2016 arbitral award.
“Even as the present government administration has not done anything to enforce the arbitral Award, it has committed acts, intentionally or unintentionally, that risked waiving or diminishing the arbitral Award,” the magistrate said.
Carpio and Del Rosario made the statement during the third anniversary of the Philippines’ victory at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague against China’s nine-dash line claim, a ruling that the Duterte administration has not asserted in three years.
Carpio pointed out that the Philippines cannot go to war with China to enforce the arbitral award because the country’s Constitution prohibits it by renouncing war as an instrument of national policy.
“It is also against international law to go to war to enforce the arbitral award,” he said. “The UN [United Nations] Charter has outlawed resort to war to settle territorial or maritime disputes between states.”
The magistrate warned that “a war of aggression renders the leaders of the aggressor state liable under the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court.”
If the war of aggression is referred by the Security Council to the ICC, the ICC can assume jurisdiction even if the aggressor state is not a member of the Rome Statute.
“Thus, it is obvious that the only purpose of raising the specter of war is to scare the Filipino people to submit to China,” Carpio said.
Del Rosario raised serious concern over a recent statement of the President allowing China to fish within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
“Is this to be viewed as a successful Chinese invasion without a shot being fired?” he asked. “Is this not a clear violation of our Constitution that mandates our President and our military to defend what is ours?”
Del Rosario said such comments from the President raises the question, “To what extent will this embolden the Chinese militia vessels to further bully our fishermen?”
Carpio lamented that “the Chinese can fish in an area 59 times larger than Scarborough Shoal” and that China has over 220,000 motorized vessels.
“The Chinese fishing fleet can rapidly deplete the fish in Reed Bank and even the entire WPS,” he said.
“In contrast, Filipino fishermen operate wooden boats without riggers and these wooden boats are dwarfed by the huge Chinese trawlers.”
Carpio exhorted Filipinos to speak out against Duterte’s verbal fishing agreement.
“I hope we can stop the President from formalizing it [allowing China to fish in country’s EEZ] during the SONA [State of the Nation Address],” Carpio said.
Del Rosario also called on the Duterte administration to heed the sentiment of the people, noting that 93 percent of Filipinos, according to the latest Social Weather Stations survey, think it’s important for the Philippines to regain control of artificial islands built by China in the West Philippine Sea.
Meanwhile, former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales demanded accountability for China’s destruction of the marine resources in the disputed territories.
Morales said the Philippines’ arbitral victory against China’s expansive claim in the West Philippine Sea showed that the Chinese government violated its obligation to protect marine environment through “tolerance of Chinese illegal fishing, massive land reclamation and the construction of artificial islands.”
But China openly defied the arbitral award and continues to push with its militarization in the area.
This situation has prompted Filipinos to “find creative and viable ways to enforce the award because our leadership refuse to do so,” Morales said.
Morales, together with former Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario, earlier filed a complaint before the International Criminal Court on behalf of Filipino fishermen who were “persecuted and injured” by China’s aggressive island-building and occupation in the West Philippine Sea.
“In implementing China’s systematic plan to take over the South China Sea, President Xi Jinping and other Chinese officials have committed crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court which involve massive, near permanent and devastating environmental damage across nations,’’ the two former officials said in a communication filed with the ICC before the Philippines withdrew from the Rome Statute on March 17.
Morales said their complaint is a “means of enforcing the award because it seeks to impose individual responsibility to China’s acts already found unlawful by the award.”
“The inhumane acts of Chinese officials in the South China Sea constitute crimes against the ICC’s jurisdiction,” she said.
The Social Weather Stations reported Friday that 87 percent of adult Filipinos agreed with the statement that the government “should assert its right to the islands in the West Philippine Sea as stipulated in the 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.”
Only 5 percent said they disagreed with the statement while the other 9 percent were undecided.
According to the SWS, 87 p;ercent of those polled agreed with the statement that the government “should arrest and prosecute Chinese fishermen causing the destruction of marine resources in the West Philippine Sea.”
The said survey, conducted from June 22 to 26, 2019, used face-to-face interviews of 1,200 adults nationwide. It had sampling error margins of ±3 percent for national percentages, and ±6 percent each for Metro Manila, Balance of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
Opposition senators scored the Duterte administration for its continuing failure to defend the national territory.
“Whenever the international community holds the Duterte government accountable for the human rights abuses under its watch, it falsely invokes sovereignty to avoid them,” she said.
“But when an actual issue of sovereign rights and territorial defense is literally at our shores, it is as silent as a watery grave,” said Senator Risa Hontiveros.
“Despite our historic triumph at the arbritral ruling, President Duterte has refused to find ways to stop the harassment of our fisherfolk and the plunder and destruction of our natural resources. Instead, it kowtows to the Chinese government’s agenda in the region,” she said.
Over the last three years, she said, the Filipino people have seen China become more belligerent in the region.
“And if we do not reverse course now, future generations of Filipino fisherfolk will pay the price; 22 of them, the men of the Gem Ver 1, almost paid with their lives,” she said, referring to Filipino fishermen whose boat was hit and sunk by a Chinese vessel on June 9, then abandoned in the open sea.
“There has been no accountability, no justice. And the first line of our fishermen’s defense should have been this government,” she said.
Opposition Senator Leila de Lima has refiled a bill declaring July 12 of every year as a “West Philippine Sea Victory Day.”
She said her proposed measure should be a “fitting and compelling” reminder for the government to uphold the country’s rights in the West Philippine Sea.
Senator Francis Pangilinan questioned why the government was giving victory to those whom it had defeated.
The Liberal Party president said the Philippines had stood up to the bullying in the past by filing diplomatic protests, summoning Chinese ambassadors, arresting, prosecuting, fining, and eventually expelling Chinese (and other foreign) poachers, yet there has been no war.
Former solicitor general Florin Hilbay said the administration has adopted, not an independent policy but a submissive one towards China.
Hilbay said the language and actions of President Duterte are “dangerous policies” for future leaders who will find it difficult to enforce the ruling that invalidated the “nine-dash line” claim of China in the disputed waters.
The Palace has repeatedly claimed that Duterte has entered into “diplomatic negotiations” to resolve the issue.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said that the 2016 ruling is silent on enforcement.
“Since nobody has the capacity to enforce the arbitral ruling, we use diplomatic negotiations to achieve benefits,” he said.
“China is declaring they are the owners, so you don’t do anything in violation of their claim. If you do that, trouble. Now if you are the President, having heard that from the President of China, what do you do? You try to negotiate,” Panelo said.
Panelo also denied any subservience to China.
“The President is not subservient to China, he is subservient to the Filipino people,” he said.
Panelo also reiterated President Duterte does not want to wage war against China.
“You do not go to war against them because you cannot win it,” he said.
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