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Judge warns Duterte over giving up sovereignty on Scarborough Shoal

Fears president could yield in exchange for economic concessions from China

Image Credit: File
Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio
Gulf News

Manila: President Rodrigo Duterte can be impeached if he gives up sovereignty over a shoal that China has occupied in 2012, while negotiating in his state visit to China in late October for grants, loans, and concessions for Filipino fishermen to fish in the shoal off the South China Sea, said a Supreme Court associate justice.

Duterte might “recognise China’s sovereignty over the Scarborough shoal” in exchange for “(China) allowing Filipino fishermen to fish on Scarborough Shoal and for all the infrastructure loans and grants (that he could get) from the Chinese (counterparts during his state visit from December 19 to 21),” said Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio

In late July, The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruled that China’s claim of the entire South China Sea and its enhancement of rocks and shoals into artificial islands were illegal; that China must open the Scarborough Shoal it occupied 23 kilometres west of Philippines’ Zambales in northern Luzon as a common fishing ground for all claimants in the South China Sea

China never joined the legal process; has refused to recognise the PCA ruling; and has rejected bilateral talks with the Philippines (and other claimants) based on PCA’s pro-Philippine’ ruling.

PCA was “silent on who has sovereignty over the shoal,” admitted Carpio, adding Duterte might interpret it that “the Philippines has no sovereignty” over Scarborough Shoal.

“If Duterte concedes sovereignty, it is a culpable violation of the Constitution, a ground for impeachment. Once Duterte concedes sovereignty, we can never recover it because China will never give it back,” argued Carpio, adding, “China will not be bound by the ruling of the Philippine Supreme Court (that could void Duterte’s concessions to China).”

“Only an international court can void the concession (that Duterte might give to China). (And) China will never submit to the jurisdiction of an international court on sovereignty issues,” said Carpio.

Foreign Affairs Spokesman Charles Jose said the rights of Filipino fishermen in the Scarborough Shoal are a “top priority” for Duterte who will hold bilateral meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping on October 20. He will meet with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and National People’s Congress Chairman Zhang Dejiang at a later date.

“We leave it to the President’s wisdom and judgement as to when he thinks the time is appropriate to bring up this matter (PCA ruling) with the Chinese (leaders),” said Jose

Duterte earlier said he would “not flaunt” the PCA ruling in bilateral talks, but also predicted the international ruling will hound China forever.

During his state visit to China, Duterte will focus on investments and trade; seek balance of bilateral investments because of higher Philippine investments in China than Chinese investments in the Philippines, said Jose.

Duterte launched an independent foreign policy and a pivot to China and Russia to wean the Philippines from over dependence on the United States, a military ally for 65 years. He has cursed US President Barack Obama; called for an end to US-Philippine joint war games, including the presence of US anti-terror forces in the southern Philippines that began in 2002; and a review of the 2014 Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA that allows increased rotation of US troops, including their access to eight Philippine bases nationwide.

China, Taiwan, and Vietnam claim the entire South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines claim their respective 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone in the sea lane where $5.3 trillion worth of trade passes annually.