Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio stated that presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo’s remark about China has “legal possession” of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) could have serious repercussions. 

Carpio has done extensive study of the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea to have his position to say that the territorial dispute is “a very serious matter” during his interview on Thursday. 

Panelo’s claim had abandoned the country’s victory over China in the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016, according to Carpio. 

Based on the ruling of the arbitral court on South China Sea, China’s claim has no basis in international law. Besides that, it has violated the Philippine’s sovereign right to fish and explore resources in the West Philippine Sea, which is in the PH 370-kilometer EEZ in the heavily disputed waterway. 

China’s legal possession 

The ruling states that even if China claims controls over Philippine reefs in the West Philippine Sea, it cannot acquire its lawful possession of the disputed territories. 

“Assuming China is in possession, which they are not, but assuming they are, that is illegal possession, not legal possession,” Carpio said.

“Now the moment you say that China is in legal possession, you abandon the ruling, you contradict the ruling and you give China ammunition to demolish our (victory),” he added.

Carpio said to Panelo, who is also the chief presidential legal counsel, that he should take back his statement or pass it off as a joke. 

“It’s very serious because China will always cite this statement by the chief presidential legal counsel that the Philippines has admitted that (China is) in legal possession and therefore that ruling will not apply anymore.” 

Panelo’s ‘analogy’

“As far as they (China) are concerned, it’s theirs, it’s theirs. Why can’t we understand that? The President has repeatedly said, ‘According to them, they own it,’” Panelo defended. 

He said that he was merely making an “analogy” and Carpio “was not listening.” 

“As far as they are concerned, legally it’s theirs. For us, as far as we are concerned, it’s also legally ours,” he repeated.

Panelo also said that the President’s stance and his means that China is in “constructive possession” of the West Philippine Sea is because they have their military hardware in the area. 

It was during the President’s fourth State of the Nation Address to the opening of the 18th Congress on Monday that “China is in possession” although the West Philippine Sea is for Filipinos.  


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