Carpio fact-checks Duterte: China not occupying West Philippine Sea



MANILA, Philippines — Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio on Monday refuted President Rodrigo Duterte’s claim that China is in possession of the West Philippine Sea.

He said China occupies only the seven artificial islands in the Kalayaan Island Group (Spratly Islands), Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, and Sandy Cay, which covers less than 10 percent of the entire South China Sea based on his estimates.

“China is not in possession of the West Philippine Sea. China is in possession of seven features in the Spratlys plus Scarborough Shoal,” he said in a statement hours after the President’s fourth State of the Nation Address.

The senior magistrate said that Sandy Cay was seized from the Philippines during the Duterte administration.

In recent years, China turned seven islands and reefs in the KIG into military outposts. It has been in control of Panatag Shoal since 2012 after a standoff between Chinese and Philippine government vessels.

“The total area of these geologic features, including their territorial seas (if any), is less than 7 percent of the West Philippine Sea,” Carpio pointed out.

“Foreign naval powers (US, UK, France, Australia, Japan and Canada) continuously sail and conduct naval drills in the South China Sea, including West Philippine Sea, demonstrating that China is not in possession of the West Philippine Sea,” he said.

He also emphasized that Recto (Reed) Bank is not a traditional fishing ground that other countries may also explore.

“Traditional fishing applies only in the territorial sea and archipelagic waters. There is no traditional fishing in the EEZ (exclusive economic zone). This is very clear in the arbitral award of 12 July 2016. Reed Bank is part of Philippine EEZ. There can be no traditional fishing in Reed Bank,” Carpio said.

According to the senior magistrate, the boats used by China are not meant to be used for traditional fishing.

“Traditional fishing is artisanal fishing using small, simple fishing boats like wooden boats, with outriggers, of Filipino fishermen. The Chinese steel-hulled trawlers cannot qualify for traditional fishing,” he said.

The President has been often criticized for his soft stance on the West Philippine Sea.

In his SONA, the President defended himself from critics, saying he was only performing a “delicate balancing act” on the territorial dispute with China.

“The West Philippine Sea is ours. But we have to temper the times and the realities we face today,” he said.