‘Total disarray’: Carpio slams Duterte gov’t West Philippine Sea strategy

Sofia Tomacruz
‘Total disarray’: Carpio slams Duterte gov’t West Philippine Sea strategy
'The Filipino people do not deserve this,' says retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio

MANILA, Philippines – Over a year since the sinking of Philippine fishing boat Gem-Ver and following months of China’s continued aggression in the South China Sea, retired Supreme Court senior associate justice Antonio Carpio tore apart the Duterte administration’s stand towards the West Philippine Sea, calling it a strategy in “total disarray.”

Carpio delivered the rebuke in a speech given during an ADR Stratbase forum organized on Tuesday, June 9, a year since the sinking of Gem-Ver occurred. (READ: A year later, Gem-Ver fishermen still unpaid by Chinese ship owner)

Carpio, who is among the staunchest defenders of the West Philippine sea, pointed to the Duterte government’s continued downplaying of the 2016 Hague ruling in exchange for economic benefits from Beijing and its refusal to assert the country’s rights in the maritime area to avoid offending China. (Read the full text of his speech here.)

He also pointed to the current administration’s recent decision to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, which experts said served as a deterrent to China’s aggressive tactics in the West Philippine Sea. 

“All of this, of course, is music to China’s ears,” Carpio said. “Has the Philippines’ strategy countered China’s strategy? Obviously not, and recent events have only shown how our strategy to defend the West Philippine Sea is in total disarray.”

The Philippines later suspended its decision to terminate the VFA and extended the military deal for up to one year, owing to the pandemic and other geopolitical developments in the region. Carpio cited this as another piece of “compelling proof of a foreign and defense policy in total disarray.”

What’s at stake? Because the Philippines has no solid strategy, Carpio reiterated his warning China could reclaim Scarborough Shoal. 

The retired justice noted the maritime feature is a crucial component of China’s plan to declare an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea as this is where it will put up an air and naval base cover. 

“We are probably just lucky that China’s nine-dashed line claim is so outrageous, so ridiculous, so fake and so destabilizing that despite our erratic and self-destructive policies, our ASEAN coastal neighbors, and the naval powers of the world, will never accept China’s claim to ownership of the South China Sea,” he said. 

Sitting on a victory: Carpio underscored how the Duterte administration neglected to enforce the arbitral ruling, whose victory was handed down in June 2016 as President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office. 

Among the ways the government neglected to enforce the ruling, he said, was in refusing to conduct joint patrols with Vietnam or Malaysia as well as not welcoming freedom of navigation operations of the United States and other naval powers in the West Philippine Sea to avoid offending China. 

Nearly 4 years since the Philippine won its case against China, Carpio said the government also declined Vietnam’s invitation to demarcate overlapping areas of the countries’ extended continental shelf in the Spratlys, which “reinforces the arbitral ruling by state practice.” 

The same was true for the option to file a claim defining the Philippines’ extended continental shelf off the coast of Luzon facing the South China Sea, similar to what Malaysia and Vietnam have done. 

“We are shy in using our own arbitral victory to protest China’s creeping encroachment of our exclusive economic zone (EEZ), even as Indonesia uses the arbitral ruling in its diplomatic protest against China’s encroachment of Indonesia’s EEZ,” Carpio said. 

The Philippines has recently raised the arbitral ruling in protests against China’s moves to assert its claims in the West Philippine Sea, which continue unhampered despite the pandemic. Still, Duterte, along with key officials, continue to boast of renewed and strengthened ties with Beijing. 

What can the Philippines do? Carpio said it’s up to Filipinos to defend the nation’s interest and ensure the government protects the country’s rights in the West Philippine Sea. 

“The Filipino people do not deserve this,” Carpio said.

He added, “This only means that all of us…who are dedicated to defending the West Philippine to our last breath, have a long struggle ahead of us. We remain undaunted, we will persevere, and we will prevail.” – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.