MANILA, Philippines – The riches of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) far outweigh the $24-billion package that the Philippines got from China, Supreme Court (SC) Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said.
"I think the option is, do you want $24 billion or do you want the West Philippine Sea?" Carpio said in a forum Wednesday, July 12.
Carpio said that "we have not yet quantified the value of the West Philippine Sea," but cited economists who say that "the value of resources in the sea is 7 times the value of resources on land."
The disputed sea is believed to keep unexploited oil and gas deposits under its seabed. It is also home to some of the world's biggest coral reefs.
Carpio said, "I hope somebody would quantify this, because I'm sure the value of the resources in the West Philippine Sea is much much higher than $24 billion."
Carpio was referring to around $24 billion in deals brought home by President Rodrigo Duterte from his state visit to China in October 2016.
The justice made these remarks as the Philippines on Wednesday marked the first anniversary of its legal victory against China over the West Philippine Sea.
He was speaking at a forum organized by the Stratbase-Albert del Rosario Institute on Wednesday in Makati City. (READ: Rally around Hague ruling, experts tell PH)
This comes as President Rodrigo Duterte chooses not to raise the July 2016 arbitration ruling, for now, to boost economic ties with Beijing and out of fear of China's supposed threat of war. (READ: Talk to China or go to war? 'False option,' Carpio says)
Former national security adviser Roilo Golez, who also spoke at Wednesday's forum, said resources in the West Philippine Sea would be hard to quantify, "but that is something that should not be quantified."
Golez said the Constitution, in the first place, prohibits trading off any part of Philippine waters "for economic benefits from any country."
"That is non-negotiable. That cannot be allowed," Golez said.
Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, pointed out that different sectors of government now view China "as a market, as a source of funds, as an alternative source of financing" for projects.
"There is that sense of opportunism," he said, adding that there is also a "sense of fear" due to China's growing military power.
Batongbacal said that once the Philippines has actual projects funded and built by China, "it's very hard to imagine" how the Philippine government "could not be influenced by such consideration in making decisions."
The maritime law expert said: "China does not even need to ask us to waive our rights, waive the tribunal decision. All they need to do is ask us to not complain, not raise it, not talk about it, when they go ahead and take resources or take control of the West Philippine Sea." – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.