Palace to Carpio: Duterte won’t allow Chinese assault on Philippine sovereignty



MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang Thursday dismissed as “speculation” Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio’s claim that China would reclaim Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal before President Rodrigo Duterte steps down as it stressed that the chief executive wouldn’t permit any assault on Philippine sovereignty.

Carpio, an outspoken critic of Duterte’s policy on China, has warned that Beijing might try to build islands in Panatag Shoal within three years.

He said China would push for the signing of a code of conduct for South China Sea claimants after it reclaims the shoal because such code would stop the building of anything in the area, thereby legitimizing whatever they built there. The magistrate said the Chinese would be emboldened to undertake such reclamation because of Duterte’s admission that he could not stop them from building structures in the shoal.

But presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said nobody could say for certain the plans of the Chinese government with regard to the maritime row.

“Can you read the mind of the Chinese government? We don’t know,” Panelo said in a press briefing.

“My fraternity brod who is a justice, he is very fond of engaging in speculations,” he added.

Panelo and Carpio are members of the Sigma Rho fraternity in the University of the Philippines Law.

Panelo said the administration would continue to oppose any intrusion into the Philippines’ sovereign affairs.

“Definitely, just like what the president said, I will not allow during my incumbency any assault on our sovereignty. That arbitral ruling is final, binding and not subject to appeal. That’s what he said,” Panelo said.

“Anything that will go against the arbitral ruling would be of course objectionable for us, I think that’s a given. Because we are against any intrusion into the sovereign affairs of the land,” he added.

In 2016, a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal based in Hague ruled that China’s expansive maritime claim in the South China Sea has no legal basis. The ruling also upheld the Philippines’ sovereign rights over its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. While Panatag Shoial is within the Philippine exclusive economic zone, the tribunal ruled that Filipino and Chinese fishermen from the Philippines and China had traditional fishing rights at the area. The court said China had interfered with the fishing rights by restricting access to the shoal.

Asked if the Philippines can stop China from proceeding with a reclamation, Panelo replied: “We can always try.”
“We will—the usual, we have to file a diplomatic protest,” he added.

Panelo expressed hope that there would be significant developments in the crafting of a binding code of conduct for South China Sea claimants during this year’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit next month.

“Considering that even the President of China has agreed with the President that there is a need for stability and peace of the region, there must be a Code of Conduct,” he added.