POSTSCRIPT / May 9, 2021 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Duterte spokesman of China in WPS tiff?

CHINA may not need a full-time ambassador in Manila to speak for it and look after the interests of its nationals on issues involving the West Philippine Sea. It already has no less than the President of the Philippines to do that for them.

We Filipinos are caught in a confusing situation where President Duterte who is supposed to be our spokesman in foreign relations appears to be unusually interested in explaining China’s position and defending it.

Instead of building on the Philippines’ victory won in 2016 in its case against China’s expansionism and destruction of the West Philippine Sea ecosystem at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Duterte set aside the landmark ruling and dismissed it as mere scrap paper.

He thus degraded the arbitral award which was based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that both China and the Philippines had signed as bona fide members of the world community.

Even if Duterte sees the arbitral award as trash, we think he should not have announced it recklessly to the world, to the glee of his friend and benefactor in Beijing who can now use his declaration in international tribunals and forums on the WPS question.

Duterte said on TV Wednesday night: “Iyang papel sa totoong buhay between nations, iyang papel wala ‘yan. Kung sino ‘yong tigas, United States, Britain ‘yan, pagka ginusto nilang ganyan gawin. Tayo nanalo. Ngayon pagdating ko ang barko nandiyan sa West Philippine Sea, China boat, ship. Tayo wala na.”

(That paper in reality between nations, that paper is nothing. Whoever is tough, the United States, Britain, they can do whatever they want. We won. When I came into office the ships were already in the West Philippine Sea, Chinese boats. We had nothing.)

Sa usapang bugoy, sabihin ko sa iyo ibigay mo sa’kin, sabihin ko sa’yo putang ina, papel lang ‘yan. Itatapon ko ‘yan sa wastebasket.” (Actually, I’ll tell you to give it to me, I’ll tell you son of a bitch, it’s just a piece of paper. I’ll throw that in the wastebasket.)

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LASHING out at retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio who has been criticizing his stand, Duterte dared him to a public debate – a challenge the former magistrate readily accepted.

But Duterte backed out, trotting out his spokesman Harry Roque, who claims expertise in international law and diplomacy, to stand in his place to take on Carpio.

In interviews, Carpio had said that under the “unilateral declaration principle” in international law, a head of state is bound by his statements, including those that are against the interest of the state, making them acceptable to other countries.

The President speaks for the country and when he does, Carpio said, he binds the country. “So if the President says something against the interest of his state and if the other state accepts it even if it is verbal, it is binding on the first state,” he added.

“We could be bound by that statement (that the arbitral award was just a scrap of paper) if that statement is interpreted as abandonment, waiver of the award,” Carpio said. “It is dangerous because it happens several times in international law.”

He also said: “I will debate with anyone on the false claim of Duterte that ‘China is in possession of the West Philippine Sea.’ I will take the negative side.”

 Fishers, marine scientists join protest

AMID the noise, the public may fail to hear the plaints of Filipino fishers and marine scientists directly affected by harassment by Chinese patrols and militia in the West Philippine Sea.

Such groups as AGHAM-Advocates of Science and Technology for the People and other associations and individuals have joined the protest against illegal Chinese activities in waters that have been traditional fishing grounds of generations of Filipinos.

AGHAM reiterated its warning that China’s incursions and extraction activities harm the ecological health of the marine ecosystem not only in the WPS but also in the whole Coral Triangle, which destruction has a domino effect on the world’s ocean health.

“We condemn China’s continued violation of our national sovereignty,” said Jerwin Baure, a marine scientist and the chairperson of AGHAM Diliman chapter. The group also “condemns President Duterte’s betrayal of Filipinos by setting aside our victory in the case filed at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016.”

He deplored Duterte’s statement that he will not stop the Chinese from fishing in the WPS and his dismissal of the arbitration case victory as a mere piece of paper.

The group also took offense at Roque’s statement that the WPS is not an important fishing ground.

“That is a barefaced lie coming from a traitor’s mouth. Scientific studies from marine experts noted that 27 percent of our country’s fisheries production come from the WPS, which is very rich in marine biodiversity,” Baure said, adding that more than 600,000 Filipino fishers rely on the WPS for their livelihood.

“The Kalayaan Island Group comprise a third of the total coral reef cover of our country,” he said. “Unfortunately, at least 16,000 hectares of the reefs have already been destroyed due to the island-building and giant clams poaching of China, depriving us of hundreds of billions of pesos of economic revenues from this ecosystem.”

If not stopped, he said, “this trend will likely result in a fisheries collapse not only of the WPS but also in nearby Sulu Sea and Celebes Sea, as these bodies of water connect the life cycle of fishes.”

AGHAM noted that Chinese coast guard presence in the WPS has exposed not only Filipino fishers but also scientists to threats and harassment, thereby sabotaging their scientific work on top of the trauma that they endure.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 9, 2021)

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