South China Sea

Carpio urges PH, Malaysia, Vietnam to voluntarily settle territorial dispute in Spratlys

Sofia Tomacruz
Carpio urges PH, Malaysia, Vietnam to voluntarily settle territorial dispute in Spratlys

PAG-ASA ISLAND. Here is an image of Pag-asa Island, the seat of power in the Kalayaan Group of Islands (Spratlys).

Image from CSIS/AMTI

It is but timely for the Philippines and its Southeast Asian neighbors to try and settle its territorial dispute as 'China is slowly activating his claims in the territorial dispute,' says retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio

Retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Caprio proposed for the Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam to settle their territorial dispute in the Spratlys by submitting themselves to voluntary arbitration at the International Court of Justice. 

Carpio, one of the legal minds behind the landmark 2016 Hague ruling, said it was “timely” for the Southeast Asian states to do so since China continued to behave aggressively in the South China Sea, pushing on its expansive claims and encroaching on the territories of neighboring countries. 

“I’m proposing that we submit to voluntary arbitration – that territorial dispute – to the International Court of Justice, because that’s the only way to settle this peacefully. No country will voluntarily concede their claim,” Carpio said in an interview with Rappler editor-at-large Marites Vitug. 

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“The only way is to submit it to a third party arbitration. And being members of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), we can do this,” he added. 

Carpio’s proposal comes as tensions flared in the West Philippine Sea in recent weeks, with Chinese maritime militia ships still swarming maritime zones in Philippine waters despite repeated demands from the Philippine government to withdraw from the area. The continued presence of the ships had prompted a renewed push by the Philippines to publicly call out China’s aggressive behavior in the area. 

The urgency to try and settle the Philippines’ territorial dispute with its Southeast Asian neighbors has grown, the retired justice added, as “China is slowly activating his claims in the territorial dispute.”

“So we have to address this, address it against China, without sparking a conflict with our neighbors Malaysia and Vietnam, because they have also territorial claims (in the Spratlys in the South China Sea),” he said. 

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Territorial and maritime disputes

The territorial dispute is one of two disputes in the South China Sea, along with the maritime dispute which involves countries’ rights to exploit resources in waters in their exclusive economic zones, beyond the 12-nautical mile territorial seas. 

Carpio pointed out the maritime dispute had been addressed with the Philippines’ victory over China at the Hague, while the territorial dispute had yet to be settled. The 2016 Hague ruling, while pursued by the Philippines against China, has implications for other claimant states in the South China Sea, as it found Beijing’s activities in Philippine waters – such as illegal fishing and its island building – infringed on Filipinos’ sovereign rights

“We have won a huge victory in the maritime dispute. That’s final. The ASEAN countries including Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, respect that,” he said. 

Carpio continued, “We have this territorial dispute and it involves ASEAN and countries, and we should settle this as ASEAN brothers.”

Carpio said if the Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia could agree to submit the issue for arbitration, it would further box out China as a state that refused to abide by the rule of law in the waterway. 

“Whether we succeed or not in convincing our neighbors, we are telling the world that China refuses to submit this to voluntary arbitration. And China prefers to use force to settle. China believes in ‘might is right,’ we believe in ‘right is might,’ and we will win world opinion on our side even more,” he said. 

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Strong Philippine position

Unlike the Philippines’ filing of its case against China in 2012, which China snubbed, Vietnam and Malaysia would need to agree to settle the territorial dispute in court, Carpio said. This was because settling sovereignty over disputed territories required the consent of parties involved. 

The Philippines’ case against China at the Hague flourished despite China’s refusal to participate as both countries were parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which had party states agree to be subjected to compulsory arbitration to settle disputes. 

“China refused to appear but the tribunal proceeded to ratify its decision because China, when it ratified UNCLOS, agreed to that, that it will be subjected to compulsory arbitration. Unfortunately, in the case of territorial disputes, we don’t have that kind of agreement with respect to the South China Sea,” Carpio said. 

The retired justice urged the Philippine government to take the initiative to settle its territorial dispute with Malaysia and Vietnam, expressing optimism the Philippines had a strong case. 

“The Philippines should not be afraid to submit to voluntary arbitration because in my opinion, we have the strongest case,” Carpio said. 

Among the evidence the Philippines had to back up its claims in the Spratlys were the 1898 Treaty of Paris as amended by the 1900 Treaty of Washington, the 1734 Murillo Velarde Map, and the 1657 map of the Philippines made by Nicolas Sanson, the royal cartographer of King Louis XIII of France. 

“We have so many legal arguments, and we should be prepared to submit it to an international tribunal because as law abiding as a country that respects international law, and as a member of the UN, United Nations, we are required to settle our disputes peacefully through negotiation,” Carpio said. – Rappler.com

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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 sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.