MANILA - The Philippines can go to an international tribunal to demand reparation from China over last year's ramming incident by a Chinese fishing vessel of a Philippine fishing boat in the Recto (Reed) Bank in the West Philippine Sea, retired Supreme Court senior associate justice Antonio Carpio said Thursday.
Speaking on ANC's Headstart, Carpio said Manila can go to a United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) tribunal and ask for damages because the 2016 arbitration award ruled that Recto Bank is within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
"We can demand damages from China for fishing in our EEZ. We can do that because this action of China happened after the tribunal ruling," Carpio said.
"If China will steal our fish in the West Philippine Sea, our EEZ, we can go to the UNCLOS tribunal and ask for damages," he added.
GemVer1 was fishing in the Reed Bank when a Chinese vessel rammed it and left its 22 Filipino crew at sea on June 9, 2019.
Beijing said the Chinese crewmen attempted to rescue the Filipino fishermen but was "afraid of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats."
A Vietnamese boat helped rescue the Filipino crewmen.
Three months after the incident, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said sanctions should be imposed on the crew of the Chinese ship that despite an apology from the shipowner.
“The Philippine government needs to exhaust all available legal and diplomatic remedies for the government of China to require reparation from and institute sanctions to the master and crew of the Chinese vessel,” he said in a statement then.
Carpio, who is an advocate of the Philippines' rights in the South China Sea, admitted that the recourse he cited would still depend on the policy decision of the government.
“The policy of this government... is never to offend China, always to appease China," Carpio noted, "even if it will prejudice our sovereign rights in the South China Sea."
"Every government must protect our sovereign rights. And this government is not protecting our sovereign rights" because of the said policy, Carpio lamented.
"This is against our national interest," he added.
The Duterte administration has decided to shelve the 2016 arbitration award that invalidated China's sweeping claims over almost the entire South China Sea, as it established friendlier relations with Beijing and court economic investments and aid.
China continues to disregard the ruling.
SPRATLYS AS MARINE PROTECTED AREA
Meanwhile, Carpio said that the Philippines can ask its Southeast Asian neighbors who are prejudiced by the destructive actions of Chinese fishermen, like Vietnam, Malasyia and Indonesia, to declare the Spratlys as a marine protected area.
“We will regulate the type of fishing that can be done in the Spratlys. We will assign quotas as to how much, how many tons of fish each country can get because the Spratlys are the breeding ground of fish,” he proposed.
Carpio said that the South China Sea is rich in fish because the atolls in the Spratlys serve as their spawning ground.
“So we must preserve those atolls. China destroyed at least 7 of those atoll reefs when it created artificial islands on the 7 geologic features that it possessed in the South China Sea,” he said.
“That will benefit everybody, including China. China will be the biggest beneficiary because China gets the biggest catch of fish in the South China Sea of all nations because it has the largest fishing fleet. So, it is to the interest of China that we preserve Spratlys as a marine protected area,” he said.
In Nov. 2017, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China declared to protect the coasts and marine resources in the South China Sea through 2027.
Aside from China and the Philippines, ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam, as well as Taiwan, have competing claims in the South China Sea.
Experts said 12 percent of global fishing catch is sourced in the South China Sea, which is also a vital channel of $5 trillion worth of annual trade, and is potentially keeping 11 billion barrels of oil reserves and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves.