Experts see factual errors in Duterte's SONA on West PH Sea

Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 24 2019 11:21 PM | Updated as of Jul 25 2019 10:06 PM

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MANILA - (UPDATE) Experts on the West Philippine Sea are pointing out what they claim are factual errors in President Rodrigo Duterte's State of the Nation Address, which they say may lead the public to make the wrong conclusions about the situation in the West Philippine Sea.

During his fourth SONA, Duterte said China is in "possession" of the West Philippine Sea.

Government officials have said what the President meant was the Chinese were in position, but the transcript by the Presidential Communications Operations Office clearly showed Duterte did say possession.

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who has been at the forefront of the Philippine campaign for the West Philippine Sea, warned this will not sit well with the Philippine military.

"The President is actually saying China is in possession of the West Philippine Sea, therefore the Armed Forces has failed in its duty to protect the state. That's the meaning of that. And that's a serious indictment of our Armed Forces. And I don't think our Armed Forces will accept that. They have not failed in their duty," Carpio said.

Both Carpio and De La Salle University International Studies Professor Renato de Castro said there were factual errors in Duterte's SONA that must be corrected.

One of which is that the Philippines lost control of the Spratlys in 2012, when the previous administration backed out of a stand-off with China in Scarborough Shoal. 

"Tayo ang umatras. Noong umatras tayo, pumasok sila. Marami na. that day, we lost the Spratly and the Panganiban Island. Yan ang totoo. Walang bolahan 'yan," Duterte said during his SONA.

Carpio said Chinese incursion in the South China Sea actually began as far back as the 1940s. It first took half of the Paracels from Vietnam, as well as Itu Aba Island in 1946.

In 1974, China occupied the Paracels completely. In 1987, it occupied the Fiery Cross Reef, and in 1988, Subi Reef, now the closest artificial island to Pag-asa Island.

In 1995, China also took Mischief Reef from the Philippines and seized control of Scarborough Shoal in 2012.

"This is a gradual creeping expansion by China since 1946. You cannot fix it in Scarborough Shoal, because Scarborough Shoal is just one of the events that started way back in 1946," Carpio said.

De Castro, meanwhile, criticized Duterte's generalization that the entire West Philippine Sea is a traditional fishing ground for all nations.

"Nililinlang niya uli ang sambayanang Pilipino. Alam naman natin, kung nabasa natin at least iyung press release ng Permanent Court of Arbitration na nilabas nung July 12, 2016. Ang sinasabi lang, ang Scarborough Shoal lang ang traditional fishing ground. Ang Reed Bank, and the rest ng Exclusive Economic Zone natin, exclusive lang sa mga Pilipino," he said.

"Pangalawa, iyung pangingisda ng Chinese, Hindi iyan traditional, commercial iyan. Dahil gumagamit sila ng malalaking barko, at of course technology," De Castro added.

Carpio said Duterte may just be misinformed when it comes to the West Philippine Sea, and despite constantly being discredited by the administration, he said he will not stop speaking out because the stakes are far too high.

"One thing is very clear. His facts are wrong. And if you facts are wrong, your conclusions will be wrong," he said.

"If we lose the West Philippine Sea to China now, we can never recover... So we have to fight now to defend it. Because if we lose it, we lose it forever," Carpio added.

Carpio, however, respects Duterte's power as the architect of the nation's national policy, saying the president is free to invoke the arbitral ruling whenever he wishes.

But Carpio also said, if the Duterte administration does not want to use the ruling right now, the least they could do is not make any new decisions that would make the Philippines' arbitral victory less powerful than it is.