Manila may lose 80% of exclusive ecozone, says former justice


THE Philippines risks losing 80% of its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea if it allows China’s continued militarization of the area, according to a former Supreme Court magistrate.

“If we do not act as one, if we do not exert all effort, if we do not exhaust all remedies, we will lose 80% of our exclusive economic zone” retired Justice Antonio T. Carpio told the ABS-CBN News Channel on Thursday. ‘Everything within the nine-dash line will belong to China.”

This will deprive future generations of the marine wealth in the area that the country might lose to China, he added.

Mr. Carpio said President Rodrigo R. Duterte should exert pressure on China by speaking against the presence of Chinese ships in Philippine-claimed reefs in the South China Sea.

The Philippines on Wednesday fired off another diplomatic protest against China after authorities spotted a swarm of Chinese vessels, including six war ships within its waters in the disputed waterway.

Two Houbei class missile warships were spotted at Mischief Reef, one Corvette class warship at the Fiery Cross Reef and one navy tugboat at Subi Reef, a Philippine task force on border security said on Tuesday night.

Two Chinese coast guard vessels were also spotted at Thitu Island, which the Philippines calls “Kalayaan,” according to a report based on patrols by Philippine authorities on April 11.

About 240 Chinese vessels that China claims are ordinary fishing vessels have spread out to a wider area in the South China Sea, the agency said.

The ships allegedly manned by Chinese maritime forces were scattered across the Spratlys, about 175 nautical miles west of Palawan province, it added.

It said 136 vessels were seen at Gaven Reef and more than 60 vessels were at McKennan Reef.

The rest of the ships were scattered in other parts of the disputed territory — 11 at the Second Thomas Shoal, nine at Whitsun Reef, six at Mischief Reef, five at Loaita Island, four at Thitu Island, three at Subi Reef and one at West York Island.

The ships were about 60 meters long.

Mr. Carpio said the Philippines could defend its territory because it has allies, adding that it should invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States if China attacks its navy or coast guard patrol ships.

“China does not want the US to intervene,” he said. “So we must take advantage of that.”

The Philippines can also build artificial structures in the South China Sea within its exclusive economic zone, Mr. Carpio said.

“That will be effective because the arbitral award says we have an exclusive economic zone and only the coastal state — the Philippines — can put up artificial structures. We have to exercise that right,” he added.

The retired justice backed the suggestion of Liz Derr, founder of American technology company Simularity, Inc. for the Philippines to occupy features in the South China Sea to protect its exclusive economic zone.

“This will stop foreign countries from occupying more Spratly features and building more destructive artificial islands,” Ms. Derr told an online forum on Wednesday. This would also protect Philippine fisherfolk, she added.

Ms. Derr said the occupation could be done inexpensively by building a lighthouse, small installations and putting up ships there. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas