Sula: Carpio's pivot


I'VE always thought that Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio of the Supreme Court is only one of the few remaining high officials of the land -- another one is Vice President Leni Robredo -- who champion the case of the Philippines in its dispute for ownership of its territories in the South China Sea.

In fact, Carpio, who is one of two Filipino lawyers who won the Hague ruling in our favor -- the other is former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay -- has been quite outspoken and firm about our position, even critical of the Duterte administration for less than enthusiastic about it.

Lately, Carpio seems to have soft-pedalled his stance on the hot issue. He sees nothing wrong about the recent memorandum of whatever that the Philippines and China recently signed on the joint exploration of natural resources in the disputed territories.

Let's leave the implications and ramifications to lawyers and constitutionalists. Hilbay, though, differs with Carpio's interpretation.

Context is important to understand here.

Carpio is in the shortlist of possible successors to the SC throne. Duterte has the last say. It's not inconceivable that Carpio wants to influence the President's mind on his choice. Agreeing to him once in a while might do the trick.

That maybe a long shot. Malacanang 's court jester Salvador Panelo has cautioned that seniority is not the sole factor in choosing the next SC justice. And Duterte has no love lost for Carpio. Besides, given Harry Roque's unpleasant experience, playing Duterte's game is a zero-sum one. Duterte knows all too well that Carpio will show his true color over the long haul.

Why choose him then?

Lawyers had better listen to political pundits in this case. They seem to know better.

Any agreement to China in regard to the West Philippine Sea, despite what the letters suggest, is a concession, whether its small or huge. That's all China needs. It plays the long game. Any agreement can be interpreted as a concession. And any concession could weaken further our claim on the WPS territories.

China is the elephant in the room in the world today. Evidently, it is throwing its weight around, militarily, economically and diplomatically. Countries of the Westphalian system are already alarmed by its aggressive behavior, especially in the South China Sea.

Remember that China is guided in its actions by the Confucian system. One of its great military strategist was Sun Tzu. One of his precepts is, it is better to win without fighting. The recent bilateral memorandum appears to be along this line of thinking.

Last week, a local official who speaks and thinks Dutertismo commented that China's foot is already in the Philippines. A Senate investigation the other day revealed that there are already more than 100,000 pairs doing legwork illegally in. How did it happen is exactly the point.

Those who are kowtowing to China argue out of fear that standing firm might provoke war between the Philippines and the Ancient Kingdom. History has lessons to remind us. It's not strength that starts wars; it's weakness. The countervailing strength is what is used to stop it.

The US and other Westphalian allies will never allow China to control or own the South China Sea. By allowing China to have its own merry way in this direction, the Philippines may just be an unwitting factor in a war the WPS that experts predict could break out in 15 years.

Fifteen years is not a long time.


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