IS WAR AN OPTION? In securing PH territory, maritime zones vs China

THE MAGISTRATE and the journalists. Photo shows Justice Carpio and UNC Press Relations Officer Mr. Joel Crescini (7th and 8th from left, respectively) along with the media practitioners in Naga City and Camarines Sur after a press conference last Saturday.

NAGA CITY --- Saying that the first duty of the State is to preserve its territorial integrity, Justice Antonio Carpio of the Supreme Court of the Philippines reminded this year’s 876 graduates of the University of Nueva Caceres on Friday about their duty as Filipino to defend and protect the country’s territory and maritime zones.

Specifically, the commencement speaker was referring to the current situation being faced by the Philippines with China in the West Philippine Sea.

The magistrate, however, was quick to brush aside the option of going to war against the nuclear-armed power China, saying that the Constitution declares that the Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy.

The Constitution also declares that the Philippines adopt the generally accepted principle of international law as part of the law of the land. A key general principle of international law, enshrined in the United Nations Charter, outlaws the use or threat of armed force to settle territorial or maritime disputes between states.

“This means that we cannot go to war to enforce our victory at the Hague arbitration that affirmed the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone in the West Philippine Sea,” Carpio said.

The West Philippine Sea is a maritime area larger than the total land area of the Philippines.

The UN Charter allows war only in self-defense, when a state is subjected to an armed attack by another state. “In fact, a war of aggression is a crime under the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC),” he said.

He emphasized that the president has the duty under the Constitution to protect and defend Philippine territory and maritime zones. “That is the primary duty of the President as Head of State, Chief Executive, and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces,” Carpio said.

Rule of law

How do the Filipino people then enforce the arbitral ruling against China without going to war?

“Our only recourse is the rule of law,” says Justice Carpio, who cited the overwhelming victory that the country has achieved when it decided to retake Scarborough Shoal from China in 2013. “We did not send the Philippine marines to retake Scarborough Shoal. We sent our lawyers to The Hague to have China’s nine-dashed line declared without legal effect. And we won an overwhelming victory,” he said.

The Supreme Court Justice also exhorted the graduates, their families and friends who attended the graduation rites held at the UNC grounds “that we should continue to resort to the rule of law in enforcing the arbitral ruling against China.”

He said that in any other form of contest, whether in a military or economic war, the Philippines cannot win against China as we can only win against China in a court of law and in the court of world opinion.

In his speech, the commencement speaker said that President Duterte has decided to set aside, in the meantime, the arbitral ruling in order to win loans and investments from the foreign country. In other words, the President, as chief architect of our foreign policy under the Constitution, has decided not to enforce the arbitral ruling in the meantime.

“How long is this ‘meantime’? We do not know. Are the Filipino people helpless? No. The Filipino people, as an essential element of the Philippine State, also have the constitutional duty to defend and protect Philippine territory and maritime zones,” he said.

2 brave Filipinos Carpio said that he is greatly heartened that former Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, resorting to the rule of law, filed a complaint before the ICC against the leaders of China for a crime against humanity.

Del Rosario and Carpio-Morales charged that China destroyed the source of food and livelihood of thousands of Filipino fishermen when the foreign country massively dredged the atoll reefs in the Spratlys within Philippine territory and Philippine exclusive economic zone.

It takes several millions of years for nature to create an atoll reef, a living organism made of living coral polyps that successively grow on top of dead coral polyps in the course of millions of years. Once destroyed, an atoll reef is irreplaceable.

The atoll reefs, Justice Carpio said, are where the fish spawn. “The eggs and larvae of the fish are carried by currents to the coasts of states surrounding the South China Sea. Without the atoll reefs in the Spratlys, the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea, will suffer, as warned by world renowned marine biologists, a collapse in fish stock,” he said.

In the Hague arbitration, the tribunal ruled that China caused severe and permanent harm to the marine environment in the Spratlys when China dredged the atoll reefs and created artificial islands on them.

That finding by the international tribunal bolsters significantly the complaint filed before the ICC against the Chinese leaders.

Everyone’s constitutional duty in a press briefing held before the graduation rites with the local media, Carpio urged the Filipino people to strongly express their support to the complaint filed by Del Rosario and Carpio-Morales “as it is in this way that we can perform our constitutional duty to defend and protect our territory and maritime zones.”

In the arbitration at The Hague, the Philippines submitted China’s own official historical maps and documents proving that China never owned or controlled the South China Sea.

“We must also conduct an educational campaign on the history of the South China Sea. First, to educate ourselves, second, to educate peoples of other coastal states of the world, and third, to educate the Chinese people themselves that China never owned or controlled the South China Sea at any time in its history,” Carpio said.

“That is why after educating ourselves on the history of the South China Sea, we should educate the peoples of the other coastal states of the world so that they can help us convince the Chinese people to abandon their false claim,” he said.

Carpio ended his speech by telling the graduates that, “once you are familiar with the history of the South China Sea, and begin conversing about it with other peoples of the world, then you are fulfilling your constitutional duty. This is not too much to ask of you, since your University motto says, ‘Education not for school but for life’.”