Palace dismisses remark China could reclaim Scarborough Shoal

MANILA — Malacañang dismissed on Thursday as “speculation” Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio’s statement that China could try to reclaim Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal within President Rodrigo Duterte’s term.

“Was he (Carpio) saying that as a matter of observation, or is he saying that as a matter because he has access to the Chinese government?,” Panelo said.

“Can you read the mind of the Chinese government?” he added.

He said there is no way to tell what China could do but assured that the Philippines would continue to assert its sovereignty over the disputed waters.

“We don’t know—but definitely gaya ng sinasabi ni Presidente (like the President said), I will not allow during my incumbency any assault on our sovereignty. That arbitral ruling is final, binding and not subject to appeal,” Panelo said.

He said the Philippines is making progress after Duterte’s Beijing visit last month where he raised the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling on the West Philippine Sea and asked to have the Code of Conduct (COC) fast-tracked.

“What is important is China is being pressured in a sense, dahil di ba (because), the President when he went to Beijing said that he will raise that issue to the President of China that a Code of Conduct should now be crafted; and the President of China acceded, sabi niya dapat meron na tayo (he said we should have it by now),” Panelo said.

Panelo said he is also hopeful that there would be significant strides made in relation to the COC during the upcoming Association of Southeast Nations (Asean) summit in Bangkok, Thailand this late October.

“Hopefully, considering that even the President of China has agreed with the President that there is a need for stability and peace of the region, there must be a Code of Conduct,” Panelo said.

When asked about the possibility that China would build installations on the shoal, Panelo said the Philippines would also try to stop the country through filing diplomatic protests.

“We can always try. Meaning—of course, we will—the usual, we have to file a diplomatic protest,” Panelo said.

“Anything that will go against the arbitral ruling would be of course objectionable for us, I think that’s a given. Because we are against any intrusion into the sovereign affairs of the land,” he added.

In a recent forum on maritime security issues, Carpio bared that China would try to build on the shoal before it signs the COC on the South China Sea.

“We all know they have a plan and they will do that before the end of the term of President Duterte, and because they will also sign the Code of Conduct,” Carpio said.

“After they finish their reclamation and island-building, they will say, ‘Let’s sign the Code of Conduct, nobody builds anything anymore,’ and it will legitimize what they have created, their artificial islands,” he added.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. reported that the first draft of the COC has been completed.

At a speaking engagement in the Asia Society Policy Institute, Locsin said China has “softened its insistence on controversial provisions” excluding external military presence in the strategic waters.

“We’ve completed the first draft. That objectionable provisions excluding the Western military presence… they’re not holding on to that anymore,” Locsin said. Azer Parrocha / PNA –