Stop blaming Filipinos for the Chinese seizure of Scarborough Shoal in 2012, former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told President Duterte Friday.
Saying that China took control of the area after it reneged on an agreement with the Philippines that both sides would pull their ships out, Del Rosario said Duterte should focus his efforts on ways to enforce the arbitral ruling by a UN tribunal in 2016 that dismissed China’s expansive claims and upheld the country’s rights in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
“There is about a year left before President Duterte’s term ends in June 2022. It is our hope that this remaining period will not be wasted on blaming Filipinos regarding the 2012 Scarborough Standoff,” del Rosario said, in a statement.
“Instead, the remaining months of President Duterte’s term should be spent on what our Constitution mandates: the enforcement of the Arbitral Award and protection of the West Philippine Sea for the sake of the present and future generations of Filipinos,” said Del Rosario, chairman of the policy think tank Stratbase ADR Institute.
Del Rosario denounced what he described as China’s duplicity, saying it was an illegal occupant of Scarborough Shoal and guilty of “a continuing and open violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Philippines.”
“On the 2012 Scarborough incident, China is to blame, not our fellow countrymen,” he said.
Del Rosario said he was not part of the chain of command present in the military, the Philippine Navy or the Philippine Coast Coastguard.
“This is a basic principle that any good soldier or naval officer knows. Under the law, the mandate of the Secretary of Foreign Affairs is in the conduct of diplomacy and foreign relations. Thus, in the 2012 Scarborough Standoff, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs had no authority to order the withdrawal of ships from Scarborough Shoal,” he said.
Besides, he said no Filipino should be blamed for sticking to the terms of a mutually approved agreement.
“It was China which illegally seized Scarborough Shoal from our country. As mentioned, in 2012, we withdrew our one or two ships from Scarborough Shoal while China deceitfully breached the US-
brokered agreement by not withdrawing their more than 30 ships,” he added.
“China occupied Scarborough Shoal and breached the agreement based on its highly questionable claim that it exclusively owns the shoal. In order to peacefully and legally settle this question once and for all, we did our best to bring China before an Arbitral Tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 2013, leading to an overwhelming victory for the Filipino people in 2016,” he said.
He recalled that the United States became a mediator during the Scarborough Standoff after the Philippine side “realized the futility of bilateral talks with China.”
“During the standoff, we were consistently engaging with then Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
After days of seemingly endless talks, we were made to realize that we were talking to a wall and China would never leave Scarborough Shoal.
Thus, a third party—the US—entered the picture to help resolve the standoff in Scarborough Shoal,” Del Rosario said.
President Duterte has blamed Del Rosario and retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio for the country’s loss of Scarborough Shoal to China in 2012 when the Philippines ordered its naval ships to withdraw from the disputed territory.
Carpio at the time was still with the Supreme Court and had no role in the Scarborough standoff.
On Friday, Carpio started a signature campaign urging President Rodrigo Duterte to retract his statements on the West Philippine Sea issue that were allegedly prejudicial to the country’s interests.
The petition, which was launched through the change.org platform, prodded Duterte to withdraw his remarks that the arbitral ruling in favor of the Philippines “is a scrap of paper meant to be thrown in the wastebasket.”
Carpio said the President should also take back his earlier statements that China is in possession of the West Philippine Sea and that Chinese nationals can fish there.
“These statements are contrary to the Constitution, waive our sovereign rights under the arbitral award and even concede to China possession of the West Philippine Sea when in fact China is not physically and legally in possession of the West Philippine Sea,” the petition reads.
China’s claim to nearly the entire South China Sea, including areas under the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, had been declared illegal in July 2016 by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration following a lawsuit filed by Manila in 2013.
Beijing, however, refuses to accept the ruling.
Carpio earlier warned President Duterte that his statement on the West Philippine Sea issue could be considered betrayal of public trust, which is an impeachable offense.
But he also acknowledged that impeaching a president who enjoys wide support in Congress will be an exercise in futility.
In a pique of anger, the President cast personal insults on Carpio and Del Rosario, and challenged the former Supreme Court justice to a debate. But when Carpio accepted the challenge, Duterte backed away.
Senator Risa Hontiveros also called on the Palace to retract several statements that she labeled as “defeatist.”
“They should retract those (statements) because it's only China rejoicing and benefitting from their statements," Hontiveros said.
She said this could be the reason 200 Chinese vessels have not left the WPS.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Julian Felipe Reef was not within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, contradicting the Department of Defense and the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Earlier, Locsin had also told Roque to leave foreign affairs discussions to him, after Roque downplayed the presence of Chinese vessels at the Julian Felipe Reef.
Also on Friday, Senator Francis Pangilinan said securing the West
Philippine Sea is no laughing matter to Filipino fishermen who rely on it for livelihood and to the many more who benefit from its bounty.
“How are we able to secure the livelihood of our fishermen if we don’t secure the West Philippine Sea? How are we able to secure our food if we are cut from our very own resource-rich waters? This is very basic,” he said.
Also on Friday, Taguig City Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano, who was Duterte’s Foreign secretary, said concerned parties cannot let their emotions get the best of them because this pushes the administration to discuss its plans in public.
“Whenever each side says something, China, Vietnam, and Malaysia are listening and adjusting their strategies against us, said Cayetano.
“When it comes to foreign affairs, we cannot allow the other sides to read what we are going to do," he added.