Two Filipinos have emerged as the most astute and authoritative critics of the Duterte administration’s policies on China and the West Philippine Sea: Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines’ Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.
Carpio not only deployed his legal acumen to help craft what would eventually become the Philippines’ internationally recognized winning position at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which declared in 2016 that China’s claimed historical right over much of the South China Sea based on its so-called “nine-dash line” is without legal basis.
Over the last years, the jurist has also spent much time and his own resources raising greater awareness about the Philippines’ historic rights to a number of islands in the strategic waterway.
He has written a book on the subject, and exhibited some 60 ancient maps at various points nationwide, including the famed Murillo Velarde Map of 1734 showing that, for example, Panatag or Scarborough Shoal — only 124 nautical miles from Zambales but now occupied by China — has been an indisputable part of Philippine territory for centuries.
Batongbacal, on the other hand, has led the charge in demolishing many of the careless, seemingly too-accommodating pronouncements of the Duterte administration on China and its designs on the West Philippine Sea and Benham (or Philippine) Rise, another resource-rich waterway to which the Philippines has been awarded exclusive sovereign rights.
In particular, it was Batongbacal who revealed the ignorance behind presidential spokesperson Harry Roque’s contention that Malacañang had granted permission to the Chinese to conduct research on Benham Rise because no local institution was capable enough to do it.
On the contrary, Batongbacal said, Filipino scientists from UP and other institutions have gone on numerous research expeditions to Benham, despite scant support from the government; their findings were, in fact, instrumental in beefing up the winning position paper that the Philippines submitted to the United Nations Commission on the [Limits of the] Continental Shelf, which in 2012 declared that the country has exclusive rights to the vast underwater plateau off the coast of Isabela.
Carpio and Batongbacal’s voices are once again united in opposition against the latest apparently ill-considered statement from Mr. Duterte — that the Philippines may get into a “co-ownership” arrangement with China to exploit resources in the South China Sea, specifically an area some 50 kilometers west of Busuanga, Palawan, that is within undisputed Philippine territory.
It was China that was said to have offered to include the area in a proposed deal to jointly explore Reed Bank in the West Philippine Sea for energy deposits.
But the idea of allowing China to exploit part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone is not only dangerous but also unlawful, Carpio warned: The “co-ownership” model would amount to ceding half of the West Philippine Sea to the Chinese, and “there is absolutely no way under the Constitution” that any sitting Philippine administration could give away the national patrimony like that.
Batongbacal echoed that position, pointing out: “In so far as territory is concerned, in so far as the exclusive economic zone and our natural resources are concerned, the Constitution mandates that the benefits of our marine resources, our marine wealth up to the exclusive economic zone, are reserved exclusively for Filipinos.”
Interestingly, only Malacañang has floated the idea of “co-ownership”; not one statement on the matter has issued from Beijing. The enthusiasm to share territory, it appears, only comes from the Philippines.
How thoroughly has this matter been put to serious study and scrutiny before the President was convinced to utter those gravely consequential words in public?