A day after President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his fourth State of the Nation Address (SoNA) last 22 July, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Tirol Carpio of the Supreme Court was all over the news media.
“As an incumbent justice of the Supreme Court, Carpio should refrain from publicly meddling in foreign policy.
Prior to the SoNA itself, Carpio warned that any statement President Duterte may make regarding the ongoing controversy in the West Philippine Sea will recklessly bind the Republic of the Philippines to whatever deals the President has already made with Beijing.
From what can be discerned from President Duterte’s speech, however, there was nothing in it that gave away Philippine maritime territory in the West Philippine Sea to the Chinese.
On the contrary, the President even emphasized that the territory belongs to the Philippines.
There was, however, one statement of President Duterte, that China is in possession of the disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea, which elicited a comment from Carpio. That statement, according to Carpio, is tantamount to giving up the West Philippine Sea to the Chinese.
In contrast, political observers believe that President Duterte was only stating a fact that China is currently but illegally occupying islets and shoals in the West Philippine Sea, as well as artificial islands Beijing constructed in the disputed area. It is precisely Beijing’s illegal occupation of those islets, shoals and artificial islands that is the subject of dispute between Manila and Beijing.
Besides, possession is not synonymous to ownership. Islets and shoals which, under International Law, belong to a particular country cannot be owned by whoever possesses them, particularly when the owner-country opposes the possession and any claim of adverse ownership.
Since Carpio is so engrossed in the issue anyway, it’s time for him to answer some questions.
As an incumbent justice of the Supreme Court, Carpio should refrain from publicly meddling in foreign policy, which is the exclusive concern of the Executive department of the government. The principle of separation of powers prohibits judicial intrusion into the realm of the Executive. Why does Carpio insist on crossing that line?
Carpio basks in his expertise on the historical aspects of China’s illegal territorial claim to the West Philippine Sea and Beijing’s intrusion in the exclusive economic maritime zone of the Philippines. He published an expensive coffee-table book on the issue, and has delivered public lectures on the subject, many of which appear to have been done during office hours when he should be working in the Supreme Court.
If that is so, why is Carpio expressing in public his views on the West Philippine Sea dispute between the Philippines and China only now, under the administration of President Duterte?
How come Carpio did not express his views on the matter during the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and President Benigno Aquino III when those views could have perhaps prevented the current problem from ensuing?
Does Carpio have an ax to grind against President Duterte?
Is Carpio interested in running for high public office in 2022?
Carpio has been bypassed for the post of chief justice on several occasions by Renato Corona, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro and the incumbent, Lucas Bersamin.
Incidentally, one name, that of Maria Lourdes Sereno, is not in that list because the Supreme Court does not consider her a lawfully appointed top magistrate. She is considered a de facto chief justice.
Even the term de facto is questionable because if Sereno’s appointment was void from the beginning, she is not a de facto public officer, but a mere usurper. A de facto public officer has color of title to the public office, while a usurper has none. Unfortunately, denying Sereno de facto status would have created serious issues concerning decisions she wrote for the Supreme Court.
Carpio’s last real chance to have been appointed chief justice was right after De Castro retired. Although Carpio did not decline being nominated for the post by the Judicial and Bar Council, he was bypassed by President Duterte and the post went to Bersamin.
Could that be the reason why Carpio has been antagonizing Duterte?
The public awaits his answers.