CHINA DOES not own and control the South China Sea, contrary to President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s claim in justifying his foreign policy stance, a Supreme Court magistrate said on Tuesday.
Senior Associate Justice Mr. Antonio T. Carpio in a statement refuted the president’s claim, noting that China “is in possession of seven features in the Spratlys plus Scarborough Shoal,”
“In addition, during the Duterte administration, China seized Sandy Cay from the Philippines,” the magistrate said, adding that the total area of these geologic features, including their territorial seas is less than 7% of the South China Sea.
Mr. Carpio said foreign naval powers such as the United States, United Kingdom, France, Australia, Japan, and Canada continuously sail and conduct naval drills in the South China Sea, which shows that China is not in possession of the waterway.
Mr. Duterte in his annual state of the nation address to Congress on Monday said the Philippines is not in a position to assert its rights in the disputed sea because China is in possession of it.
He blamed Benigno S.C. Aquino III, his predecessor, for allegedly giving way to China after a 2012 standoff in Scarborough Shoal that later allowed the regional power to occupy the shoal.
China has been building artificial islands in the disputed Spratly Islands and setting up installations including several runways. China claims sovereignty over more than 80 percent of the waterway based on its so-called nine-dash line drawn on a 1940s map.
President Duterte has sought closer investment and trade ties with Beijing, including over resources in the South China Sea, since taking power in 2016.
His predecessor sued China before an international arbitration tribunal over its territorial claims, and won. He also strengthened Philippine alliance with the US to try to check China’s expansion in the main waterway.
In his speech, Mr. Duterte also said China has “traditional fishing rights” which Mr. Carpio also refuted. The magistrate said there can be no traditional fishing within the Philippines’s exclusive economic zone.
“This is very clear in the arbitral award of July 12, 2016,” he said. “Reed Bank is part of Philippine exclusive economic zone. There can be no traditional fishing in Reed Bank.”
Meanwhile, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said the Philippines should allow Chinese fishermen in the disputed area provided the Philippines is also allowed there.
A Chinese fishing vessel allegedly rammed a Filipino fishing boat near the Reed Bank and abandoned the 22 Filipino crew members in the sea after the ship sank.
Majority of Filipinos think that the Philippines should regain control of disputed islets occupied by China, according to a Social Weather Stations (SWS) poll in June.
Such sentiment has grown steadily in the past four SWS polls in the past year, according to the report e-mailed late Wednesday.
The polling company said 93 percent of Filipinos think the country should recover the islands in the disputed South China Sea, based on a June 22 to 26 poll. The proportion has risen from 89 percent in December, and 87 percent in earlier polls last year. — Vann M. Villegas and Charmaine A. Tadalan