Such a waste of energy, that rant by President Rodrigo Duterte aimed at Antonio Carpio, the former Supreme Court associate justice who has found a new voice in the old din of the West Philippines Sea (WPS).
It is the President’s folly that he amplified Carpio’s voice by issuing the challenge to debate on the WPS that is the former magistrate’s backyard. It’s now the topic pushed by the opposition, rightly so as it is timely, fired off by China’s activities in the Philippine territory, and tightly watched by an alarmed citizenry that will have its voice heard next year, if it could make an intelligent choice.
Duterte fell into it since no coherent statement has come from his end amid the illegal assembly of some 220 ships owned by the Peoples’ Liberation Army, masquerading as China’s militia but is actually a de facto navy. It’s now clear at least that Duterte does not want trouble with Beijing.
He said he does not want a war with China, whether it is possible if we assert our WPS claim.
The President has turned his back on the challenge he had raised himself. His Cabinet said he only followed some senior officials’ advice. Carpio had earned a point there.
That debate should have been an interesting collision of minds, with Secretary Salvador Panelo, the presidential legal counsel, short of calling it a no match in the President’s favor. He described Duterte as a street-smart who can take down Carpio anytime.
This rubbernecker had missed that chance of seeing the street-smart Duterte outsmarting Carpio, the valedictorian and cum laude from the University of the Philippines. So did you.
That debate should have cleared how we lost Bajo de Masinloc — Panatag Shoal to the Philippines, Huangyan Island for the Chinese.
It’s part of Zambales Province until 2012, when China initiated a standoff through the use of warships against Philippine fishing boats.
We would like to know how the Philippines, with former President Benigno Simeon Aquino III at the helm, had lost it when the leadership blinked, pulling out a Philippine boat while the Chinese fleet stayed.
Without a force to counter China’s, the Philippines sought a decision by The Hague in 2013 against China. The United Nations-backed court’s decision came in 2016, invalidating China’s nine-dash line claim over the entire South China Sea, including areas in the WPS.
It also upheld the Philippines’ sovereign rights in the area.
The Hague decision gave Duterte some leverage against China, but he went further by offering Xi Jinping his warm friendship. The President pivoted away from the United States and made China his major economic partner.
Only the country’s military partnership with the US remains.
Still in 2016, the CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative claimed no signs of any land reclamation, dredging, or construction activities in the shoal. Only a Chinese civilian ship was anchored on a lagoon; two small Filipino fishing boats were also present.
It was in September 2016 when Chinese construction begun, a claim contested by the United States. China had yet been permanently present then.
The following year, the mayor of Sansha City declared China had started preparatory work for an environmental monitoring station at Scarborough Shoal. Aquino had left Malacañang by then.
In 2019, Carpio had warned about China’s reclamation of the area.
Duterte should have that chance to dispute that claim. In all his messages, the President blamed Aquino and his men, including former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, for losing the WPS.
We should expect Duterte to run roughshod of Carpio, whose ability to speak about the WPS was belittled by the President’s men.
What a bummer that the debate won’t push through. It would have given us a clearer picture of what really went on there.