In his recent State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Rodrigo Duterte showed his defeatist stance explaining how the Philippines cannot afford to go to war with China to contest its West Philippine Sea (WPS) claims. This isn’t the first time that pro-China Duterte has enunciated such a statement. He previously mentioned China’s possession of the WPS during the ASEAN-India Summit in Singapore on November 15, 2018, and in his fourth SONA on July 22, 2019.
In an opinion piece published by former Chief Justice Antonio Carpio on Inquirer.net, it’s clear that the words ‘China is in possession of WPS’ has become Duterte’s mantra, despite the Philippines’ victory on July 12, 2016 when an arbitral award invalidated China’s WPS claims based on the nine-dash rule.
“Mr. Duterte directly contradicts the Award which ruled that China never controlled the SCS. To possess a sea like the WPS means to control that sea. Mr. Duterte is subverting the very basis of the Award that gave the Philippines a maritime area in the WPS larger than the total land area of the country. For Mr. Duterte to say that China is “in possession” of Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and extended continental shelf (ECS) in the WPS is to concede to China more rights than what international law or the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) grants to any state,” said Carpio.
Carpio added that with Duterte saying that China is “in possession” of the WPS, under the international law doctrine of unilateral declarations, China can later claim that the Philippines has “ceded sovereign rights over its EEZ and ECS to China. “Under this doctrine, unilateral declarations of heads of state bind the state even if such declarations are contrary to the Constitution and laws of a state,” he added.
Following the statements of Duterte which China can fully take advantage of to claim the WPS, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) should issue a clarification that China is not in possession, and can never be legally in possession of the WPS. Carpio also urged the Filipino people to “vigorously show their rejection of Mr. Duterte’s false claim that China is “in possession” of the WPS.”
“All professional, civic, social, political, student, and alumni organizations, and all Filipino citizens, should storm Malacañang with statements and text messages: China is not, and will never be, in possession of the WPS. This is the moment for all Filipinos to unite in defense of Philippine sovereign rights in the WPS,” Carpio stressed.