Carpio to Duterte: China not in possession of South China Sea

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 16) — Risking his chances of being chosen to head the judiciary, acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio corrected President Rodrigo Duterte's statement that China "is already in possession" of South China Sea.

Carpio said China is in only a small portion of the South China Sea.

"China is in physical possession of the entire Paracels, seven geologic features in the Spratlys, and Scarborough Shoal. These geologic features and their territorial seas constitute less than eight percent of the total area of the South China Sea. Factually, China is not in possession of the South China Sea," Carpio clarified in a lecture at a convention.

He pointed out that about 25 percent of the South China Sea are high seas. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), no state can possess or own the high seas which belong to all mankind. There's also freedom of navigation and overflight in the high seas for all nations.

In an interview with reporters during the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations in Singapore, Duterte urged countries to stop provoking China with military activities.

Carpio said that like all other coastal states, the Philippines under UNCLOS had exclusive sovereign rights to explore and exploit the natural resources in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea, which is part of the South China Sea.

"If China can possess the South China Sea, then the Philippines cannot exercise its exclusive sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea. Under UNCLOS, there is also freedom of navigation and overflight in the EEZs for all nations," Carpio pointed out.

Carpio is one of five nominees for Supreme Court chief justice. The Judicial and Bar Council has yet to come up with its shortlist from which Duterte would choose the next chief justice.