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MANILA – The Philippines must assert its claim over its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) now more than ever, as it has to begin looking for a substitute to the Malampaya gas field, which supplies 40 percent of Luzon’s energy, and will run out of gas in 10 years.
This is according to Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who lectured on the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling on the West Philippine Sea territorial dispute on Friday at “Brewing at AIM: Conversations with Thought Leaders” at the Asian Institute of Management in Makati City.
“We will have rotating brownouts in Luzon if we don’t develop a replacement area, a substitute area, and that substitute area is really the Reed Bank.”
He said it takes about six years to put the infrastructure in place, and the government has only a 10-year window before the Philippines’ largest operating gas field is spent.
His lecture came just days before President Duterte flies to Beijing on a high-profile visit, with 400 Filipino businessmen in tow, with expectations of getting billions in investments and aid from the giant Asian neighbor that Manila sued before the UN arbitral court three years ago.
The Philippines won a landmark ruling, with the PCA at The Hague dismissing China’s nine-dash-line claim. Duterte, who has repeatedly attacked western allies critical of his anti-drugs war, has been conciliatory toward China, however, and expressed confidence his manner of engagement may yet allow the country to maximize its gains from the UN tribunal ruling.
China blocked Reed Bank
Unfortunately, Carpio told the AIM forum Friday, China already has a history of blocking the Philippines’ efforts to develop Reed Bank, an area which China claims under its nine-dashed lines map submitted to the United Nations in 2009.
Carpio referred to three incidents that happened recently.
• In March 2011, two Chinese coast guard vessels prevented the Philippine-commissioned ship MVVeritas Voyager from undertaking an oil and gas survey in the Reed Bank.
• In the same year, Carpio said, the Philippines invited bids for the exploration of Areas 3 and 4 of the Reed Bank, which is within its EEZ.
In response, China sent a note verbale in July 2011 to the Philippines urging the latter “to immediately withdraw the bidding offer” and “refrain from any action that infringes on China’s sovereignty and sovereign rights.”
• In February 2010, the Philippines awarded a service contract to what was formerly Sterling Energy (now Forum Energy) for Block SC 72 of the Reed Bank, an area that is 83 nautical miles from Palawan and 595 nautical miles from Hainan in China.
China then sent a note verbale to the Philippines in the same month, “express(ing) its strong objection and indignation,” and asserting “indisputable sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction over the Nansha Islands (Spratly Islands) and its adjacent waters”.
Carpio said that China demanded that the Philippines withdraw the service contract “immediately”.
It again sent a note verbale in May 2010 demanding that the Philippines “immediately withdraw the decision to award the service contract” to Sterling Energy.
According to Carpio, China is claiming 80 percent of the Philippines’ EEZ in the South China Sea (or West Philippine Sea) under China’s nine-dash lines map.
A danger to food security
The South China Sea is home to 34 percent of the world’s total coral reefs. This is where fish spawn, and the larvae are carried by currents to the coasts of China, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
The two billion people living along the South China Sea need healthy coral reefs in order for them to survive.
But China’s actions are a threat to the marine environment – and in turn, food security.
Carpio said that the tribunal declared that China had violated its obligation under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to “protect and preserve the marine environment” when it dredged and built islands on seven reefs, and failed to prevent its fishermen from harvesting endangered species like sea turtles, giant clams, and corals in the Spratly Islands and the Scarborough Shoal.
The Tribunal ruled that China “caused permanent and irreparable harm to the coral reef ecosystem,” Carpio pointed out.
In building the 590-hectare artificial island and three-kilometer runway on Mischief Reef, for example, China used the largest dredging vessel in Asia, Tiang Jing Hao (“Heavenly Whale”) – which Carpio referred to in his presentation as a “Reef Killer”.
The vessel’s rotating cutter was dropped to the bottom of the sea. It pulverized the coral. The dead coral sediments were then sucked through a pipe and pushed onto the rim of the reef.
Marine ecologist: ‘massive, massive destruction’
Carpio quoted marine ecologist and professor John McManus, who did fieldwork at the Scarborough Shoal and Spratly Islands, and worked at the Bolinao Marine Laboratory of the University of the Philippines’ Marine Science Institute in Pangasinan, as saying when he returned to the Spratlys in February: “The damage was much worse than even I expected it to be. I swam over one whole kilometer of reef before I saw a single living invertebrate. It was really massive, massive destruction.”
Carpio also echoed McManus’ recommendation to declare the Spratlys an International Marine Peace Park, where all claimant-states will suspend their territorial claim for 100 years.
The structures there can be maintained, but must be converted into marine resource centers or ecotourism areas.
Marine ecologists from China, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Philippines have thrown their support behind a Spratlys Marine Protected Area, Carpio said.
He called it a “face-saving exit” for the parties.
Compliance by any other name, still satisfying
Carpio said that there is a misconception that great powers ignored the rulings of international tribunals.
He cited the case of Nicaragua v. United States in 1986 as an example.
In 1986, the International Court of Justice “ruled that the US violated the territorial integrity of Nicaragua when the US armed the contra rebels and mined the territorial waters of Nicaragua, among others.”
Carpio elaborated: “The U.S. had refused to participate in the proceedings and also refused to comply with the ruling, which directed the U.S. and Nicaragua to negotiate the amount of damages the U.S. should pay Nicaragua.”
But in 1991, as the proceedings were going on, “the U.S. and Nicaragua struck a deal: without conceding any liability, the U.S. would provide US$541 million in economic aid, not reparations, to Nicaragua if Nicaragua would withdraw the pending case with the ICJ,” Carpio said — an apparent case of a superpower bowing to international rule of law.
Even if the amount was not in reparations, it was still money that Nicaragua was willing to accept.
And so, in September 1991, Nicaragua wrote the ICJ to say that it was discontinuing the proceedings.
“And that is how disputes are resolved. Decisions of tribunals are satisfied not strictly, because you are dealing with sovereign states. You cannot humiliate them even if they lost the case. The U.S. will not say that they violated the territorial integrity of Nicaragua. They will not accept paying reparations. The U.S. Congress will never appropriate such amount. But economic, yes. So that was the agreement. Everybody happy,” Carpio said.
“A rose by any other name smells as sweet as a rose. Compliance by any other name is as satisfying as compliance.”