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SC justice warns vs. allowing China to control South China Sea

Allowing China, through its controversial nine-dash rule, to gain control over the South China Sea would encourage other powerful nations to also lay claim over large maritime territories, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio warned Tuesday.

Carpio gave this warning as he urged the Netherlands-based Permanent Court of Arbitration to void China's nine-dash rule over the South China Sea and uphold the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

"If the tribunal will allow the 9-lines to stand, then the law of the sea, the UNCLOS, will not apply in the South China Sea. If it can't apply in the South China Sea, it cannot apply in other seas or oceans because other naval powers will demand the same right as China," Carpio said in an interview with the Elcano Royal Institute in Madrid, Spain.

Carpio did a series of lectures in Europe regarding the West Philippine Sea and the South China Sea dispute, upon invitation of several organization there last May.

"We cannot create an exemption because [other] naval powers will demand also an exemption. 'Why is China alone being given an entire sea?' India will claim the Indian Ocean," he said.

Carpio was the one who wrote the Supreme Court decision that unanimously affirmed the constitutionality of the Philippine Archipelagic Baselines Law of 2009.

For several years now, he has been giving public lectures to support the Philippine claim over the West Philippine Sea.

Old times

Carpio has expressed fears that allowing naval powers to easily lay claim over disputed areas would be like going back to the "1200, 1300, 1400, 1500, where nations try to claim the oceans and seas."

The Philippines had earlier submitted to the arbitration tribunal its Memorial, a crucial arbitration document packed with evidence and legal arguments consisting of 10 volumes with maps and nearly 4,000 pages seeking to invalidate China’s claim over the South China Sea.

Carpio said the Philippine government is trying to get a ruling from the tribunal that the nine-dash-line has no basis under international law. He said the tribunal is set to hold oral arguments on the matter in July, then decide in August or September if it has jurisdiction to rule on arbitration case.

If it decides it has jurisdiction, the tribunal would next conduct another hearing in November, this time on the merits already.

Carpio said the tribunal is expected to decide on the merits with finality in the first quarter of 2016.

He stressed that China may claim ownership over specific islands or territories in the South China Sea, "and we can discuss that over time, but in this time and age, no state can claim an entire sea anymore."

The magistrate said famous scholars Hugo Grotius and John Selden had long settled in the 1600s the issue on whether a nation can claim an entire sea or ocean.

"That era's long passed. We are now under the UNCLOS," said Carpio.


Carpio said the UNCLOS, ratified by an "overwhelming majority" of UN members or around 165 countries, entitles a country to 12 nautical miles of territorial sea and an additional 200 nautical miles of exclusive economic zone, and, at most, another 150 nautical miles of extended continental shelf.

"You cannot claim beyond that. You cannot claim the entire sea. That's all over now," Carpio said.

The nine-dash-line map comprises almost 90 percent of the total area of the South China Sea, and encroaches, according to Carpio, on 80 percent of the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and 100 percent of its 150-nm Extended Continental Shelf (ECS) facing the South China Sea, or the West Philippines Sea.

Carpio said should the tribunal void China's nine-dash claim, China would have to limit its claim to the islands and the 12-nautical mile territorial sea.

"That will drastically reduce the area of the conflict from the entire South China Sea to the islands. And that kind of conflict over small islands can be managed," he said.

"If we have a favorable ruling the area of the dispute will be reduced considerably and we can leave on that kind of dispute," Carpio added.

Carpio said because of China's claims, Filipino fishermen fishing in traditional fishing grounds at the West Philippine Sea risk being water cannoned.

He also highlighted the adverse effect to the global economy if ever the South China Sea territorial "flares up" further.

"The world economy will be in danger because more than one-half of the seaborne trade of the world passes through the South China Sea. And this dispute, if it flares up, it affects the entire world," he said.

Carpio also called on the European Union to support any ruling the international tribunal would be coming up with "because this is a ruling of an intl. tribunal in which EU is a member. The world should follow that." —KBK, GMA News