By Genalyn Kabiling
The military presence of China in the South China Sea indicates the Asian giant is in possession of the disputed territory, according to a Palace official.
Even as President Duterte maintained the West Philippine Sea is “ours” during his recent State of the Nation Address (SONA), Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo acknowledged that China remains in control of the contested waterway.
“When you’re in possession, isang portion lang ang ipu-possess mo? Kapag mayroon kang mga military installation doon, in other words, pinapakita na kaya nilang bantayan iyong buong lugar nila, eh di in possession pa rin sila. Hindi naman kailangan physically [When you’re in possession, you possess only one position? If you have military installation there, in other words, they are showing they can guard the entire place so they have possession],” Panelo said during a Palace press briefing Tuesday.
“Like when you have 10,000 hectares, do you need to be all over the 10,000 hectares to call it your own? There’s such thing as legal possession,” he said.
Panelo further said: “As far as they’re concerned sa kanila iyon [that is theirs] and they are in possession kasi they can enforce it eh, iyon ang punto [they are in possession because they can enforce it, that’s the point].”
He argued that if China was not in control of the area, there would be no problem in the territory.
“Hindi na tayo nag-aaway, hindi na nagku-conflict iyong mga ibang countries claiming their own territorial rights [We would not be fighting, there will be no conflict among countries claiming their own territorial rights],” he said.
Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio recently rejected the President’s claim that China was in possession of the West Philippine Sea. He said China only has possession of seven features in Spratlys, Scarborough Shoal, and Sandy Cay.
The President, in his SONA before a joint session last Monday, said the West Philippine Sea is “ours” but China has “possession” over the disputed property.
He has refused to deploy troops and ships to drive away China from the area, saying it might only lead to violence. But Duterte said he would stop others from fishing in the area in “due time.”
“Huwag muna ngayon [Not now]. That’s the first. The second is when… I said when I — during my term. Last ko na lang ‘yan. But maybe on the second or the first term of my last year, God willing, if I’m still alive,” he said.
For now, Duterte said the two nations have a mutual fishing arrangement in the West Philippine Sea, citing traditional fishing rights as upheld by the arbitral ruling on the South China Sea and the international maritime laws.
An arbitration court earlier ruled in favor of the Philippines after it nullified China’s nine-dash claim over the West Philippine Sea. It also decided that Filipino and Chinese fishermen have traditional fishing rights in the 12 nautical mile territorial sea of the Scarborough Shoal, declaring it a common fishing ground.