Justice Carpio, VP Robredo urge gov't to protest China bomber planes in South China Sea

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A report from a United States' think-tank said Beijing landed the bomber planes on Woody Island in the Paracel Islands. 

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 22) — The Philippine government should file a formal protest after Chinese bomber planes landed for the first time on an island in the contested South China Sea, Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Vice President Leni Robredo said Tuesday.

The statements comes after reports of long-range H-6K bombers landing for the first time and conducting exercises on Woody Island. The island is part of the Paracel Island chain contested among China, Taiwan, and Vietnam, but the Philippines is well within the combat radius of the nuclear-capable bombers.

"Any self-respecting sovereign state will immediately formally protest such encroachment on its sovereignty and sovereign rights. The Philippines must do no less," Carpio said in a statement.

He added that a formal protest was recognized by the United Nations Charter as "a peaceful and legitimate response."

The Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia also have claims in the South China Sea, which China claims almost entirely.

House National Defense and Security Committee Vice Chair Rep. Ruffy Biazon told CNN Philippines' The Source that although China dropping a bomb within the Philippines was unlikely, it now demonstrated a capability to do so.

"(The bombers' range) reaches up to Benham Rise... Basically abot ang buong Pilipinas [All of the Philippines can be reached], from Luzon to Mindanao," Biazon said.

Carpio also pointed out that the aircrafts could now land and take off on Chinese runways built on Mischief Reef, Subi Reef, and Fiery Cross Reef. All the reefs are within the Kalayaan Island Group of the Philippines, and are alternatively named Panganiban Reef, Zamora Reef, and Kagitingan Reef.

He said this was part of China's Three-Warfare Strategy, which involves the eastern giant flexing military muscle and scaring claimants into submission "without China firing a single shot."

"The failure to formally protest China's militarization and creeping invasion makes the Philippines a willing victim," said Carpio.

Robredo similarly urged the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to take diplomatic action.

"Inuudyok natin ang ating (DFA) na magsampa ng diplomatic protest sa harap ng mga kaganapang ito," Robredo said in a statement. "Isulong natin ang lahat ng diplomatikong paraan para panatilihing maayos ang ating pakikitungo sa ating mga karatig bansa, ngunit hindi nararapat na hahantong ito sa pagkompromiso ng ating bayan."

[Translation: We urge the DFA to file a diplomatic protest in light of these events. Let's exhaust all diplomatic means to maintain good ties with our neighbors, but this should not reach a point where our country is compromised.]

The DFA said on Monday it was already "taking the appropriate diplomatic action to protect our claims."

It added, "It is not our policy to publicize every action taken by the Philippine government."

'PH should engage allies'

Carpio also urged the Philippines to work with other claimant states and countries that see China's militarization as a threat to freedom of navigation and overflight.

"Failure to coordinate, and to harness world opinion to support the arbitral ruling, will be handing over to China on a silver platter the West Philippine Sea," he said.

United States Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim also raised concern about the bomber planes, but China Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang also hit the presence of U.S. vessels in the region.

However, Biazon pointed out that the vessels were only passing through, and the U.S. did not build military structures on contested islands. He also believed claimant countries should band together.

"We should be taking this to the international legal stage where we can get the backing of others with common interests in the area," said Biazon. "A diplomatic protest is in order, but we can still do more by engaging our allies."

Biazon also filed a resolution urging the National Security Council to convene and come up with a definitive policy on South China Sea.

What about 'newfound friendship'?

In a press briefing on Monday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said they viewed the reports with "very serious concern." However, he maintained that the President did not see any immediate threat from the eastern giant.

"We do not consider China to be a threat to our security right now because of our newfound friendship," said Roque.

President Rodrigo Duterte's administration has had warmer relations with Beijing, which has pledged billions of pesos in infrastructure and investment in the Philippines.

The President has repeatedly said that the country "cannot go to war" with China. He also has yet to bring up the 2016 arbitral ruling, which favors the Philippines' claim over the maritime territory.

However, Biazon pointed out the "newfound friendship" is economic, while this conflict concerns national, maritime, and food security. He said that taking a firmer stance in South China Sea need not mean sacrificing trade.

"I think the friendly relations can still go on even if we make a stand on this particular area," said Biazon. "The United States and China have long been at odds with each other with regard to the South China Sea, but they're very good trading partners."

If China does cut off ties with the Philippines over a firmer stance against militarization, Biazon believes it will not be a total loss.

"If we lose the newfound friendship with China, I don't think we will be holding an empty bag," said Biazon. "Other nations will be very much willing to take on that role of assisting us."

CNN Philippines digital producer Chad de Guzman contributed to this report.