MANILA, Philippines – Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio hit back at President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday, June 29, and refuted his claim that it is “thoughtless and senseless” to defend the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea.
“This exclusivity is not a ‘thoughtless and senseless’ provision in our Constitution as President Rodrigo Duterte has unfortunately characterized,” Carpio said in his recognition day speech at the University of the Philippines College of Social Sciences and Philosophy.
The EEZ is the area 200 nautical miles from a coastal state’s baselines within which the state has the exclusive rights to fish and exploit marine resources, such as oil and natural gas. The issue over this erupted again after a Filipino fishing boat was sunk by a Chinese ship in Recto Bank (Reed Bank), which is within the Philippines’ EEZ in the West Philippine Sea.
Carpio pointed out that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which entitles coastal states to an EEZ, “has been ratified by 167 states, including China.” He said this represents “an overwhelming number of members of the United Nations, accounting for at least nine-tenths of the world’s population.”
He added that “even the small minority of states that have not ratified UNCLOS,” such as the United States, “have adopted this exclusivity.” International tribunals have also “declared this exclusivity as part of customary international law.”
“China itself reserves all the natural resources in its own EEZ exclusively to Chinese citizens. Why will we not accept and protect this exclusivity when the rest of the world is accepting and protecting this exclusivity?” the justice asked.
“Surely, this exclusivity in the use and enjoyment of the resources in the EEZs, being the accepted norm in all civilized states of the world without exception, is not ‘thoughtless and senseless,'” he said.
Sovereignty vs sovereign rights
Carpio earlier clarified that under international law, the Philippines enjoys sovereign rights, not sovereignty, over the West Philippine Sea. (READ: Sovereignty vs sovereign rights: What do we have in West PH Sea?)
Maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal said the difference is that sovereignty “is like full ownership of property,” while sovereign rights function “like usufruct, a right to use and enjoy property.”
Carpio said: “Just because we do not have sovereignty, but only sovereign rights, in our EEZ does not mean we should not protect our EEZ. Sovereign rights are priceless too, that is why the Constitution directs the State to protect its marine wealth in its EEZ.”
Carpio made the latest statement after Duterte on Thursday, June 27, again called him “stupid” and downplayed the constitutional provision on the country’s marine resources.
“That provision is for the thoughtless and the senseless. The protection about economic rights, about the economic zone, resources? I am protecting the country and 110 million Filipinos,” Duterte said on Thursday.
The Philippine leader had said the Constitution would be meaningless if war with China erupts.
“I would say, ‘If you don’t have anything to wipe your butt with, use that Constitution of yours.’ Because that means war and that piece of paper, the Constitution, will become meaningless with no spirit except desperation, agony, and suffering,” Duterte had said.
Carpio: ‘Only a fool will go to war with China’
Carpio however reiterated on Saturday that “war, in the first place, is not an option and has never been an option.” He said the Philippine Constitution “has renounced war as an instrument of national policy.” (READ: Talk to China or go to war? ‘False option,’ Carpio says)
“Besides, the United Nations Charter has outlawed the use or threat of force to settle territorial or maritime disputes between states. A country that violates this is an international outcast, and can be sanctioned by the Security Council,” he explained.
Carpio added: “Of course, we also know that if we go to war with China to enforce the arbitral ruling, we will lose and lose badly. Only a fool will go to war with China. It is clear that the specter of war is being raised only to intimidate the Filipino people into submitting to China’s encroachment of our EEZ.”
The Recto Bank incident can taint Duterte’s nationalist image as he enters the second half of his term, an analyst said. Duterte’s allies however have continued to defend him and downplay the claims of the Filipino fishermen who were abandoned in a boat sunk by a Chinese ship. (READ: Duterte vs fishermen: Is the Philippines lawyering for China?)
Senate President Vicente Sotto III recently said he saw no problem with the Chinese fishing in Philippine waters “as long as we are allowed to fish also in their zones,” even as Carpio said this violates the Constitution.
Netizens later poked fun at Sotto for saying in an ANC interview that it was difficult to determine the “exclusivity” of underwater riches, as fish in the West Philippine Sea “could be coming from China.” The senator later clarified that it was a tongue-in-cheek remark. (READ: Beyond memes: How to rebut Sotto on ‘exclusive’ fish) – Rappler.com