MANILA, Philippines – While Malacañang said the Philippines "should thank" China, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said the country should protest China's new "maritime rescue center" in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
"We should protest because Fiery Cross Reef is part of the geologic features we claim in the Kalayaan Island Group. If we do not protest, then we impliedly consent to China's act of putting up a maritime rescue center there," Carpio said on Thursday, January 31.
He added: "This means we are recognizing that China has a right to occupy and use Fiery Cross Reef. Occupation and use are acts of sovereignty. This contradicts our claim that we have sovereignty over Fiery Cross Reef."
Carpio issued this statement after Chinese state media said China has opened a maritime rescue center on Kagitingan Reef (Fiery Cross Reef) in the West Philippine Sea.
China had said it plans to use its artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea for humanitarian purposes, but experts warn that China is militarizing these waters.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo had a different reaction to China's new rescue center. "Maybe we should be thankful," Panelo said on Thursday. "That could help seamen in distress, it can help everybody."
Still for Carpio, building a maritime rescue center on Kagitingan Reef "is an act of administration."
"If we do not protest such Chinese action, then we are impliedly agreeing that China can exercise, and in fact exercises, acts of administration over Fiery Cross Reef. An act of administration is an essential element in acquiring sovereignty," Carpio said.
"So, if we impliedly or expressly agree to such act of administration by China, we are helping China strengthen their sovereignty claim to Fiery Cross Reef to the prejudice of our own claim to these geologic features," he added.
The Department of Foreign Affairs has not responded to requests for comment as of posting time.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro "Teddyboy" Locsin Jr earlier said, however, that he is not keen on filing protests against China.
Locsin said in November 2018: "Every time you send a note verbale and no one responds to it, what does that look like? When you keep sending those notes – I know some people say, you just keep on sending them – what I keep calling it is banging your head against the wall." – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.