Carpio inhibits self from SC case for Calida’s ‘peace of mind’
MANILA, Philippines — A critic of the Duterte administration’s South China Sea policy on the Supreme Court on Tuesday inhibited himself from hearing a petition to compel the government to protect three reefs in the West Philippine Sea and rehabilitate the marine environment around them that China had damaged.
Shortly before the justices heard oral arguments on the case, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio announced that he would not take part in discussions on the petition for a writ of “kalikasan” (environment) for Panatag (or Scarborough) Shoal, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and Panganiban (Mischief) Reef.
He said he was inhibiting himself “for the peace of mind” of Solicitor General Jose Calida, who last week requested Carpio to remove himself from the case due to his “personal bias and manifest partiality.”
Calida claimed Carpio had prejudged the case because of his “active participation in the South China Sea arbitral proceedings” in The Hague and his “continuing public pronouncements against the actions taken by the government in relation to the [South China Sea] arbitral award.”
PH arbitral case
Carpio was part of the government’s legal team that successfully argued the Philippines’ challenge to China’s claim over nearly the entire South China Sea in the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
The Philippines brought the challenge in 2013 after China seized Panatag, insisting it owned the reef located within Philippine waters.
Ruling in favor of the Philippines, the court declared that China’s claim had no basis in international law and said it had violated the Philippines’ right to fish and explore resources in the West Philippine Sea, waters within the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the heavily disputed South China Sea.
“There is no compulsory ground to inhibit, but I voluntarily inhibited for the peace of mind of the SolGen,” Carpio said in a statement relayed to reporters by court spokesperson Brian Hosaka before the start of the proceedings.
Hosaka said the other justices accepted Carpio’s decision.
“We thank him for inhibiting for reasons that he knows already. He was part of the legal team that handled the West Philippine Sea case. It’s just right he’s inhibiting,” Calida told reporters shortly before the oral arguments started.
How about Jardeleza?
He acknowledged that he did not ask Supreme Court Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza to inhibit himself even though he was also part of the arbitration team as solicitor general then.
“He (Jardeleza) never said anything in public. He didn’t say anything [about] the West Philippine Sea, unlike Justice Carpio who is very active,” Calida said.
Malacañang distanced itself from Carpio’s departure from the case.
“That’s his decision. That’s his call,” presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo told reporters.
Carpio and the Palace are at odds over President Rodrigo Duterte’s handling of the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea.
Last week, the President called Carpio “stupid” for saying he could be impeached for refusing to enforce the constitutional provision that requires the state to protect Philippine waters and reserves the right to use resources in the country’s seas for Filipinos.
Carpio spoke after the President played down as just “a little maritime accident” the sinking of a Philippine boat in the South China Sea after being hit by a Chinese trawler that then abandoned the boat’s crew to drown in the open sea.
Carpio declined to comment on the President’s “stupid” remark.
Protect the reefs
The Supreme Court was asked by groups representing fishermen from Palawan and Zambales to compel the government to protect the area around the three reefs from destructive Chinese activities, including land reclamation and harvesting of corals and endangered species.
Represented by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the Free Legal Assistance Group, the fishermen asked the Supreme Court to order government agencies to act in view of the “neglect of performance of the duties of the government in violation of environmental laws resulting in environmental destruction of damage in the shoals.”
The petitioners are members of the Kalayaan Palawan Farmers and Fisherfolk Association and residents of Sitio Kinabuksan in Cawag, Zambales province. —With a report from Julie M. Aurelio
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