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Carpio: Duterte gave 'green light' to China reclamation by not mentioning sea dispute during ASEAN meet

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio on Thursday said President Rodrigo Duterte had practically given the "green light" on China's reclamation activities in the West Philippine Sea when he did not mention the territorial dispute in his ASEAN Chairman's Statement.

"In 2017 we were the host [of the ASEAN Summit], the president was responsible for the Chairman’s Statement [and made] no mention of reclamation or militarization. For the Chinese this is a green light," Carpio said in a speech in Makati City.

After intense debates and lobbying, ASEAN leaders revised the final statement and removed indirect reference to the arbitration ruling that invalidated China's sweeping sea claims over the South China Sea from a paragraph on the West Philippine Sea. 

Carpio, who was one of the country’s legal team that argued the Philippines' case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, said the 2017 statement was in contrast with the previous statement when Cambodia was the ASEAN chairman.

Carpio said the 2016 version still mentioned China's land reclamation activities despite the Philippines' expectation of a more decisive statement.

"That statement was very good despite the fact that we were not happy. It’s strong, it mentioned land reclamation expressing concern about land reclamation, about land militarization. It was directed at China do not reclaim further, especially Scarborough Shoal," he said.

The Supreme Court magistrate had earlier cautioned that it would be "game over" for the Philippines if China succeeds in reclaiming Scarborough Shoal. 

Scarborough Shoal, or Panatag Shoal, is inside the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, but China claims it is covered by its "nine-dash line" — a claim invalidated last year by the PCA.

Strengthen US-PHL ties

Meanwhile, Carpio recommended to strengthen bilateral ties between the United States and the Philippines, saying this would be the only option to convince China to cease its reclamation activities.

Carpio urged the government to push their American counterparts in drafting a legislative resolution which declares Scarborough Shoal as part of Philippine territory, therefore making if covered by the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).

"We can stop China by getting the Americans to declare that Scarborough Shoal is part of Philippine territory and therefore covered by the Mutual Defense Treaty. And we have the documents to show that," he said.

The Philippines signed the MDT with the US in 1951 for defense and development assistance. The Visiting Forces Agreement is also under the MDT.

Carpio mentioned the territorial dispute between China and Japan at the Senkaku Islands as a reference. He said the government can also send a Philippine Navy vessel or Air Force aircraft to patrol Scarborough Shoal, noting that any Chinese attack against them automatically invokes the MDT.

"We send our Navy ships and Philippine Air Force planes to patrol scarborough shoal and if we are attacked we invoke the treaty," Carpio said, urging the government to act immediately.

"If we don't do anything, we don't do this, for certain we have to bid goodbye to Scarborough Shoal as the traditional fishing ground of our ancestors," Carpio said. "That's the big problem we have not actually done anything, we have actually green lighted China." —KBK, GMA News