Philippines: Supreme Court Justice Threatens to Impeach Duterte over South China Sea

Philippine Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio warned President Rodrigo Duterte that he may face impeachment if he does not properly protect Philippine territory from Chinese colonization, particularly the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.

“Once we lose sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal, we lose it forever. I would not want to wait for that time because we cannot recover it anymore,” Carpio said on Friday, adding that “I would not want to go to that extent because if the president concedes now our sovereignty of Scarborough Shoal, yes, you can impeach him.” Carpio suggests not protecting the nation’s sovereign territory is a violation of the Constitution.

Carpio is a vocal advocate for joint Philippine-U.S. patrols in the South China Sea, which Duterte has been hesitant to allow. “It is important for naval powers to assert freedom of navigation in the area,” Carpio said on Tuesday, attending the closing of joint military exercises with the United States. While these exercises have been conducted annually for years, Duterte has repeatedly threatened that this year’s exercises would be the last.

“For as long as I am there, do not treat us like a doormat because you’ll be sorry for it. I will not speak with you. I can always go to China,” Duterte said earlier this month, referring to the United States. He has also called for the removal of U.S. military personnel from the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, citing the dangers of an Islamic insurgency in that region.

Duterte has also referred to President Barack Obama as a “son of a whore” and told Washington to “go to Hell.”

In those same remarks, Duterte made clear he was not interested in challenging China in the South China Sea. “I will go to China. We are okay with them. Let’s not dwell on the Scarborough issue for now. We can’t solve it even if we get angry,” Duterte said. He visited Beijing this week.

Carpio, in contrast, has argued that the Philippines must challenge China. China claims most of the South China Sea, including the sovereign territory of the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, and Malaysia, and the waters off Natuna Island in Indonesia. Carpio was on the legal team that took China to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague, where the Philippines soundly won their case.

“There is a provision in the Constitution that the state shall protect its EEZ. The Constitution says the armed forces is responsible for protecting the national territory. Who is the head of the armed forces? The President,” Carpio said on Tuesday.

China has constructed artificial islands and militarized them in the Spratly and Paracel Islands and has begun construction in the Scarborough Shoal, which belongs to the Philippines. In the process, Beijing has prevented Philippine fishermen from exploiting the resources in their own country.

“The Philippines must protect its EEZ  [exclusive economic zone]. That’s the mandate of the constitution. The only way to protect that is to send patrol ships there, because if a foreign fishing vessel will poach on our waters in the EEZ, the only way we can stop them is to have a patrol there, there’s no other way,” Carpio argued.


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