MANILA – While the Philippines gained a victory when a Hague court ruled that China has no legal basis to claim historic rights over the West Philippine Sea, Manila can take things further by filing a new case against the superpower, said Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.
The Philippines can file a new case against China for severely damaging its marine environment because the July 12 decision by the United Nations (UN) Permanent Court of Arbitration does not include the latter’s granting of a monetary award, Carpio said on Thursday during a symposium at the De La Salle University (DLSU) in Manila.
The Philippines raised six major issues before the court, including China causing severe harm to the marine environment within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ) when Beijing dredged and built islands on seven reefs in the Spratly Islands, and allowed Chinese fishermen in harvesting protected marine life in the contest area.
READ: The West Philippine Sea dispute
He cited a case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), wherein Nicaragua was able to negotiate terms with the United States for the latter’s alleged violation of its territorial integrity. The US offered Nicaragua economic aid in exchange for the withdrawal of the case it filed before the ICJ, Carpio said.
"We can do the same. We can file a case to quantify damages. That has not been resolved but we can file a new case," Carpio said. He added that it is the legal obligation of China to comply with the tribunal and avoid damaging the marine environment, under the 1981 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Marine protected area
Carpio said the Spratly Islands should be declared a marine protected area, similar to an agreement between Israel and Jordan to address their overlapping claims in Red Sea by creating the Red Sea Marine Park, which the two countries jointly manage.
It will be a "win-win" situation for all claimant states if they suspend claims and declare the Spratlys a marine protected area, Carpio said, because while the UN tribunal ruling settled maritime issues, the territorial issue as to who owns the reefs and islands was not settled as the court has no jurisdiction over questions of sovereignty.
A positive solution would be very welcome, Carpio said, especially as the Philippines is very concerned about China's continuing militarization in the South China Sea.
"We're not surprised but we're concerned, very concerned. And that's why we want [former] President Fidel Ramos to jumpstart the talks [with China]," he said.
Ramos was asked by President Rodrigo Duterte to pave the way for talks with Beijing. He arrived in Hong Kong on Tuesday.
The journey to make China honor the tribunal ruling will be a long one, Carpio said, but the Philippines has taken its first step towards a favorable result.
"China will not roll over and give up just because we've won. I've always said that this is an inter-generational struggle. There's no instant strategic need. We have to persevere; we have to prepare our minds for a very long struggle. So we've done the most important thing, get the ruling," Carpio said.
"We have to play a long-term game here. So there's no instant gratification but we've made the first step."