MANILA — For former Supreme Court (SC) Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, the Philippines can sue China in an international court for the damaged corals in the West Philippine Sea, believed to have been caused by Chinese military militia vessels that were stationed in Rozul reef and Escoda (Sabina) shoal.
“Definitely, we can bring an action before an august tribunal to recover damages for destruction of coral reefs in Rozul reef and in Sabina shoal,” Carpio said in a forum in Makati.
According to the former magistrate, if China refuses to pay for damages, the Philippine government can also refuse to pay the money it owes China for different projects.
“Let’s say we will be awarded, for example, one billion. How do we collect that amount because China will not pay? Well, we owe China for the Kaliwa dam, for the Chico dam so we will just offset it. We become creditor and debtor of each other,” Carpio explained.
Carpio believes China can also be sued for depriving Filipino fishermen of their livelihood by preventing them from fishing in Scarborough shoal.
Based on the 2016 arbitral ruling that favored the Philippines, Carpio said the entire Scarborough shoal is a common fishing ground.
“China cannot unilaterally prevent other fishermen from the Philippines or Vietnam from entering the lagoon,” he pointed out.
Maritime law expert Professor Jay Batongbacal, on the other hand, said there are other options available to the Philippines.
"There are many fora in the international community... There is a whole range of options from fact finding to adversarial litigation," he said.
Batongbacal also believes it is time to bring into the open reports of destruction in the West Philippine Sea considering that these were allegedly not highlighted under the Duterte administration, which was friendly to China.
ENHANCED STRATEGY ON THE WEST PHILIPPINE SEA
Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, Commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command, said an enhanced national strategy on the West Philippine Sea is in the works to better address the situation on the ground.
He refused to elaborate on the changes that will be made, only saying that there will be a "whole of nation" approach.
“The strategy now is working, we are okay with the strategy but we are tweaking it to address the situation on the ground better,” Carlos said.
Carlos also defended the Coast Guard’s removal of a floating barrier put up by China in Bajo De Masinloc or Panatag shoal.
On Tuesday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry warned the Philippines about causing trouble.
But Carlos said they will still remove any other barrier they will see in the contested waters.
Currently, there are more than 400 plus foreign vessels in the West Philippine Sea, majority of which are Chinese.
According to Carlos, the usual swarming still happens in Rozul Reef, Panganiban Reef and Ayungin Shoal.
Despite tensions, he said about 50 fishermen started venturing back to Ayungin Shoal in the past month.
Retired US Air Force Colonel Raymond Powell said in the same forum that bringing up the issue of environmental destruction is a good move for the Philippines to call for an international investigation.
Enhancing international ties is also beneficial.
“China wants to be able to take smaller countries, isolate them and say ‘no this is just between us.’ The Philippines by using this tremendously innovative, assertive transparency campaign has internationalized its support,” Powell said.
“In the end what we want to do is to deter and hopefully even to defeat gray zone aggression.”
Powell is also doubtful of the creation of a Code of Conduct on the West Philippine Sea as he believes China is negotiating a weak code that will discredit the arbitral win.