Locsin asks past admin: If Scarborough Shoal was ours, why did you withdraw?
MANILA, Philippines — Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. has raised questions over the previous administration’s action of being the first to pull out from Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal during a standoff with the Chinese if it really believed the country owns the area.
In a pre-recorded address of President Rodrigo Duterte aired Monday night, Locsin echoed and reiterated his boss’s viewpoint that the islands in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) were lost due to the Aquino administration’s decision to withdraw from that tense impasse.
Both Locsin and Duterte were referring to the 2012 incident where Chinese fishing boats were anchored at the Panatag Shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc, which is well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. The incident, which led to the Aquino administration’s filing of an arbitration case against China before the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration, was said to have been brokered by the United States, according to past government officials.
“The question really is who lost possession of that reef, Scarborough. I was a little hard, I have been very hard on the Americans blaming them, because when there was a confrontation between a Philippine ship […] and a Chinese ship […] But when they confronted themselves, the interference, the participation of the United States was to try to stop people from attacking each other,” Locsin said.
“They think it’s their job, so they said stand down. So they stood down. And then the United States told both sides — not taking sides — said, withdraw. Now, if you believe, your government at that time believes that that is yours, why will you withdraw? These are only good offices of the United States, it is a suggestion,” he stressed.
Locsin further claimed that the previous administration had all the reasons to stay in the area, as the conditions were on their side.
“So what you should have done — I don’t want to say that I know better after the fact — but the truth is if I have Unclos on my side saying we are within the exclusive economic zone, and the Chinese ship is not, from my point of view then I’ll say, I’ll just look at the other side and say go,” he asserted.
“When you go, I’ll go. But you go first. Instead, our side withdrew, so what happens to our claim that this is ours? You just give it up,” he added.
The Chinese intrusion within the West Philippine Sea has been a hot topic recently after the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) reported the presence of over 200 boats last March — including Chinese maritime militia ships — near the Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef.
The reef is well within the country’s exclusive economic zone.
People who fought for the Philippines’ case, asserting the country’s rights over the West Philippine Sea, before the PCA, like retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, insist that the Duterte administration must use the 2016 arbitral ruling, which invalidated China’s nine-dash line claim, to push for the Philippines’ claims over the disputed waters.
But Duterte insisted that to further bring up the PCA ruling would only spell trouble, as China had supposedly raised the possibility of conflict should issue escalate, and so he opted to set aside the historic decision and establish cozy relations with Beijing.
Verbal exchanges soon prompted Duterte to challenge Carpio to a debate. Carpio called his dare but the President backed out and instead delegated presidential spokesperson Harry Roque to argue against the retired magistrate.