Carpio: Just wait for sea levels to rise

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FORMER Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio, since 2012, the ideologue of the hostile stance against China over our maritime and territorial disputes in the South China Sea, has changed his tune, but in an absurd manner.

Toward the end of his two-hour presentation in the UP College of Law Magister Lecture Series on October 10, he made the following surreal recommendation:

“The Philippines should invite China, Vietnam and Malaysia to submit the territorial dispute in the Spratlys to voluntary arbitration by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). It should also invite China to submit the territorial dispute over the Scarborough Shoal to voluntary arbitration by the ICJ. This will finally settle by peaceful means, as mandated by the UN Charter, the territorial disputes in the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal.”

Slide accompanying Carpio’s lecture where he made the ridiculous recommendation (‘old document’ his stylization).

That’s a volte-face for Carpio, who, with the US, pushed China to an involuntary arbitration in 2013, the arbitral panel’s ruling of which the superpower simply ignored. Carpio also knows full well that China has repeatedly declared that that it is willing to undertake only bilateral negotiations with another claimant and without a third party (such as the ICJ) involved.

So, immediately following that first suggestion, he ended his presentation: “If China and disputant states are not willing to submit the territorial dispute to arbitration, the Philippines can just wait for sea level rise to submerge most, if not all, of these islands. Then the submerged will form part of the Philippine exclusive economic zone if within 200 nautical miles from the archipelagic baselines of the Philippines.”

I thought he was either joking or being sarcastic, but his facial expression didn’t show the slightest indication that he was. He was dead serious.

Either he’s not familiar with the geography of the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal, or he really wanted to tell his audience: “Forget our disputes with China, even if I have been claiming that there is much evidence the islands and other features there are ours.”

Carpio must have been watching the kind of videos that claim that climate change has been raising sea levels too fast.


Take Scarborough as an example. Its highest point, South Rock, is 1.8 meters above sea level at high tide. Even if we double the 1.31 mm average rate of rise from 1900 to 2015* in the level of the South China Sea to 2.62 mm, the waters there will completely submerge the shoal only in 687 years. By that time, I would guess we will then have a world government with no national borders. (*”Annual resolution records of sea-level change since 1850 CE reconstructed from coral δ18O from the South China Sea,” Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology Volume 592, 15 April 2022, 110897)

Carpio: ‘Just wait for the sea to submerge them.’ One of China’s island fortresses in the Spratlys (Kalayaan Island Group to us) PNA PHOTO

That’s just one of many arguments that easily debunk Carpio’s laughable recommendation to wait for the sea level to rise. Furthermore, to retaliate against Aquino 3rd’s arbitration suit filed against China in 2013 but perhaps also thinking what Carpio was thinking, China dredged the seafloor and dumped the land excavated on the seven reefs it had occupied in the Spratlys (Kalayaan Island Group to us), to raise their height from the sea level. I don’t think the Chinese were stupid enough to scrimp on the height of their artificial islands.

It will only be when sea levels rise to catastrophic levels, perhaps when all the world’s coastal cities are submerged — maybe in a thousand years — that these Chinese-occupied artificial islands will sink below the waters, with Carpio’s ideological progeny claiming that these fall within our EEZ. By that time, we will have much bigger problems than our disputes with China.


What was Carpio thinking?

However, Carpio’s lecture is significant in that, finally, he has clarified what our disputes with China are really. Since he assumed as his advocacy in 2012, arguing that China has no legal claim to any feature in the South China Sea, he finally points out that there is not just a maritime-area dispute but a more important territorial dispute.

In his main work on this, a 2014 e-book that compiles his speeches on the issue, he claims that China arbitrarily drew, and made official in 2009, a nine-dashed U-shaped line that runs around most of the South China Sea by which it justifies its “indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and the adjacent waters.” He declared that this is the main driver of the South China Sea dispute.

This interpretation of the nine-dash line is so patently inaccurate — cleverly spread by the US and its propaganda experts — that it has raised so much outrage among Filipino leaders and opinion makers, with one arrogant columnist calling it “ridiculous.” Ridiculous it certainly is if it is the basis of China’s claims of sovereignty.

But it isn’t, and I’ve written more than two dozen columns pointing out that China has never claimed it to be the basis of its claims and has not even explained what this line is. It’s astonishing that most anti-China officials and opinion writers haven’t asked the obvious question: Why is it a dashed line rather than a solid line, which is normally the way to depict a nation’s boundaries?


I refer my readers to my many columns on this subject and China’s explanation of its claims, and especially to Chapter 7 (“The Nine-Dash Line”) in my book “Debacle: The Aquino regime’s Scarborough fiasco and the South China Sea arbitration deception.” Space — and attention — limitations require me to focus on Carpio’s three declarations in his presentation that he has never made before, which our officials, especially the ignoramuses in the defense establishment and the Coast Guard, should closely study.

The first is Carpio’s de facto admission — finally — that it is not the nine-dash line that is the justification by China for its occupation of islands and reefs as well as its sovereignty claims over Spratlys and the three other island groups. In his UP lecture, he mentions the nine-dash line only twice. One, that China “bans maps without the nine-dash line,” and that China inserted the nine-dash line on the Tang dynasty map of 669 AD” — without explaining why nor explaining the relevance of these two mentions.

In contrast to all his previous speeches on the issue, nowhere in his lecture does Carpio claim that it is the nine-dash line that is “the main driver of the South China dispute.” China claims are based on its alleged exercise of sovereignty over the Spratlys and Scarborough, as evidenced, it argues, by its official maps, its laws, and recognition by other states before World War 2.

The second is his admission that the more important territorial dispute between us and China over the South China Sea hasn’t been resolved. Carpio claims — falsely — that the maritime-area dispute had been resolved by the award in July 2016 of the five-man panel in our arbitration case against China.

However, Carpio says correctly that the territorial dispute “remains unresolved since the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) governs only maritime disputes and not territorial disputes… Unclos provides for a compulsory dispute settlement mechanism for maritime disputes only. There is no treaty providing for a compulsory dispute settlement mechanism for the territorial dispute in the SCS.”


Carpio’s presentation is the first time he has admitted that the territorial dispute had not been resolved by the 2015 arbitral panel’s “award.”

Our ignorant leaders and opinion writers should believe Carpio’s new views and stop their hilarious saber-rattling and chest-thumping that they will not give an inch of our territory to the “bully.”

Our ignorant defense and Philippine Coast Guard officials are so belligerent against China because they have been brainwashed to think that China has invaded our “territories.” The reality is that China has its claims in the South China Sea; we and Vietnam have our claims. There are over 150 disputes underway that involve territory in the world, 13 of which involve China. We are the only one so belligerent towards China, a superpower.

We have a territorial dispute, mainly with China and Vietnam in the South China Sea. Recognize that and find ways to resolve it peacefully rather than go on a suicidal path of provoking China into an armed clash in the hope that the US will intervene.

Remarkably, Carpio reports what our leaders and opinion makers are ignorant about. He says: “Scholars have written that the Philippines has the weakest claim.” He points out that Marcos’ 1978 Presidential Decree 1596’s justification for making most of the Spratlys part of Philippine territory (and called the Kalayaan Island Group) — proximity, importance to our security and history — are “admittedly weak grounds.”

However, Carpio insists that the Philippines has the strongest claim over the Spratlys and Scarborough, using arguments he has never before made in his advocacy over this issue since 2012, and which is patently wrong.

His main, new argument is that the crucial 1898 Treaty of Paris between Spain and the US that specifically delineated the Philippines’ territory (which the former handed over to the latter through the treaty) in precise geographic coordinates was revised by 1900 by the Treaty of Washington to include the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal.

That is a preposterous claim never made by any administration. No scholar has ever made that claim, and I’ll explain why it is blatantly wrong and totally unsupported by facts on Wednesday.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Sam

    What is the chance that China will budge off from their claim to favor the claim of the Philippines? So maybe the best is to enter into an agreement with China for mutual use of the area.

  2. Dorina S. Rojas

    This is really ridiculous our leaders acting and speaking inconsistently but embarrassingly. I may not like what China is doing but it appears that they have not budged from their original position, belligerent, as many would say, but they have been consistent and clear from the start. I hope our leaders act with sufficient knowledge and wise decisions regarding this issue.

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