SONA 2020

War with China over West PH Sea? Look at Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, says Carpio

Sofia Tomacruz
Retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio debunks President Rodrigo Duterte’s war claim again and asserts China does not possess the country’s exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea

Retired Supreme Court senior associate justice Antonio Carpio hit back at President Rodrigo Duterte and refuted his claim that asserting the Philippines’ rights in the West Philippine Sea will only lead to war with China. He said there are lawful means by which Filipinos’ rights can be protected.

Carpio issued this statement after Duterte dedicated a portion of his 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA) to tackle the West Philippine Sea on Monday, July 27. Duterte had first said the government will protect the country’s West Philippine Sea rights, but ultimately ended by refusing efforts to regain maritime features in the West Philippine Sea occupied by China. 

Carpio, among the staunchest defenders of nation’s sovereign rights, pointed out that war was not even among the options the government could take as this went against the Constitution and international law. 

One need not look further to the Philippines’ neighboring countries in Southeast Asia to see this, he said. 

“Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia are asserting their sovereign rights to their maritime zones against China’s claims. These countries do not go to war against China, and neither does China go to war against these countries,” Carpio said. 

He added, “A country does not need to go to war to assert its sovereign rights. There are lawful and peaceful means of asserting sovereign rights.” 

Like the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia are among claimant states in the South China Sea dispute. Indonesia does not consider itself a claimant but has publicly opposed China’s actions in the waterway and clashed with Beijing over the presence of illegal fishing vessels around the Natuna islands. 

The Southeast Asian countries publicly call out and push back against China’s aggressive behavior in the strategic maritime area, Carpio noted, as he added no war broke out each time they did so. 

Carpio has long urged the Duterte administration to stop its “defeatist attitude” toward asserting the country’s rights against China in the West Philippine Sea. He had even  offered the government several ways it could implement the Hague ruling, taking up a challenge from Duterte who demanded a “formula” to do so. 

(READ: Carpio rebuts Duterte, offers at least 6 ways to enforce Hague ruling)

Malacañang earlier rejected Carpio’s strategies and insisted the President’s way was still the “best.”

Factually incorrect

Duterte had also claimed he could not physically regain the “South China Sea,” referring to the West Philippine Sea, as China was “in possession” of it. 

“Unless we are prepared to go to war I would suggest that we better just call off and treat this as a diplomatic endeavor. China is claiming it; we are claiming it. China has the arms; we do not have it. So, it’s simple as that,” Duterte said in his 5th SONA. 

Carpio corrected the recycled claim, pointing out China does not possess the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

This was proven by the fact that naval powers such as the United States, United Kingdom, France, Australia, Japan, and Canada sailed through the Philippines EEZ. 

Carpio explained earlier that while Beijing occupies 7 features in the Spratlys plus Scarborough Shoal, the “total area of these geologic features, including their territorial seas (if any), is less than 7% of the West Philippine Sea.” 

“The President should not say that China is in possession of our EEZ in the West Philippine Sea because factually China is not in possession,” he said. –

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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