ASIDE from the expanding militarization of the artificial islands built by China in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), what got the attention lately of Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio is the news that China had constructed what it called a “maritime rescue center” in Kagitingan Reef (Fiery Cross Reef), which is a disputed territory.
Carpio’s concern is that the Duterte’s government should not just let this pass, meaning that it should file a protest so that it cannot be said that we have consented to China’s act of putting up a maritime rescue center, whatever it means, or else it might be interpreted that we are recognizing China’s right to occupy and use Fiery Cross Reef when it is the Philippines that has the exclusive rights over it.
There is no doubt that Carpio’s legal advice is worth heeding for it is strengthening and upholding the country’s claim of the WPS according to the rules established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Carpio’s recommendation also seeks to give credence to the July 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration declaring, among other things, that China violated its obligations under UNCLOS with its island-building activities on several features, including Kagitingan Reef. Also, that China’s nine-dash lines had no legal basis for maritime claims.
But what good would Carpio’s proposition really do when China has established her dominion in the WPS with impunity, does not give a hoot about UNCLOS and simply brushes off the decision of the UN-backed arbitral tribunal?
Needless to say that China is staying in the WPS forever and nobody, not even the US nor the UN, can stop their continuing military build-up in the disputed waters. The strategic importance of the place, both for military and economic purposes, cannot be overemphasized and China can only gloat for the success it has attained in having the vast area under its control today.
Had the Duterte government protested when China started building the now existing maritime observation center, a meteorological observatory, and a national environmental and air quality monitoring station, all on the pretext that it was built for humanitarian reasons?
How about when China quietly installed defensive missile systems and military jamming equipment, which disrupts communications and radar systems?
It never did.
The fact is that protesting against a superpower like China whose formidable military presence can be felt in our backyard is not only dispiriting, but is in itself an exercise in futility. We are on our own and the best way forward is not to antagonize but rather focus on economic cooperation while maintaining our self-respect.--JESUS SIEVERT