MANILA - China's seizure of the Scarborough Shoal west of the Philippines in late 2012 was due to Beijing's non-compliance with a U.S.-brokered agreement with Manila to jointly pull out their ships at a certain time, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said Thursday.
Del Rosario issued the statement a day after President Rodrigo Duterte suggested that the former administration's strategy resulted in China taking effective control over the shoal that the UN-backed arbitration court in The Hague declared as a traditional fishing ground of Filipinos and other nationals.
"On the unfortunate loss of Scarborough, as previously discussed, there was an Agreement with China in settling an impasse in 2012 which was brokered by the United States. It involved the withdrawal of all ships on both sides by a certain hour," Del Rosario said.
"Accordingly, if my memory serves me correctly, we withdrew our one ship while China deceitfully breached our Agreement by not withdrawing their 30 or more ships," he added.
In his Talk To The People on Wednesday night, Duterte said the government at that time should have stood its ground.
"Sana, sinabi mo 'yong (You should have said), 'We will stand our ground. We will not retreat. We will not get out of the West Philippine Sea because it's ours'," Duterte said, addressing Del Rosario.
Help from the United States, with which the Philippines has a Mutual Defense Treaty, should have also been sought, he added.
Duterte's rant against Del Rosario, as well as of retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, were revived after the chief executive has been asked to make a bolder move in challenging Beijing's continuing incursions in the West Philippine Sea and disregard for the 2016 arbitration award.
Del Rosario said the government sought a "peaceful and durable solution" by bringing China before the Arbitral Tribunal, under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, of which the China and the Philippines are signatories.
"After our efforts in securing this victory (in July 2016), we were expecting the then new administration to enforce the Arbitral Award for the benefit of the Filipino people," he said.
"Unfortunately", Duterte set it aside, noted Del Rosario and Carpio, in exchange of up to $24 billion pledge in Chinese investments and aid.
"Today, less than 5 percent of those loans and investments have materialized as President Duterte is already leaving office next year," lamented Carpio.
He said Duterte "even allowed China to fish in our exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea despite admitting that there is not enough fish stock there for both Filipino and Chinese fishermen. We even import galunggong now from China, the same galunggong that Chinese fishermen take in the West Philippine Sea."
Del Rosario said that was "in patent violation of our Constitution."
In 2017, Duterte "remained absolutely silent when China seized Sandy Cay from the Philippines," said Carpio, a feature located 2 nautical miles from Pagasa Island in the Spratlys.
According to the former magistrate, "China’s seizure of Sandy Cay has resulted in the loss of one-third of our territorial sea in Pagasa, a loss of a maritime area three times larger than the land area of Quezon City."
"Still, President Duterte has declared, 'I simply love President Xi Jinping'," Carpio said.
"Filipinos deserve, and should demand, a President who loves Filipinos first and foremost, and who will uncompromisingly defend Philippine sovereignty and sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea."
Del Rosario urged Duterte "to do his utmost to protect the West Philippine Sea and be most wary of China's duplicity."
While the Philippines, according to him, owes China a debt of gratitude for its aid, including the donated 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, Duterte said during his latest televised public address that the country's territorial waters "cannot be bargained."
“Kung paalisin tayo nang ganoon lang, umalis kayo—‘wag kayong umalis. Bakit kayo alis d’yan? Atin ‘yan,” said Duterte.
(If they turn us away just like that, telling us to leave, you shouldn't follow. Why will you leave? That is ours.)
But Duterte conceded that the Philippines is "at a loss of how to get back physically the West Philippine Sea."
Hundreds of Chinese ships were sighted at the West Philippine Sea since March, and have refused to leave despite a number of diplomatic protests and repeated demands for their withdrawal.
On Monday, a spokesman of China's foreign ministry reiterated their illegal claim over the West Philippine Sea.
- with reports from Willard Cheng and Joyce Balancio, ABS-CBN News