IS he to be or not to be?
The question stares the nation in the face. The designation of Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio as chief justice is increasingly getting imminent. Being the most senior of the sitting associate justices, he is deemed to be the most likely to fill in the post vacated by Chief Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, who retired last October 10. In fact, Carpio could already have made it to the post had he not declined the nomination previously out of delicadeza. Former chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno was unseated through quo waranto proceedings which Carpio opposed. This made him pass up that first opportunity; it didn’t look good partaking of food that resulted from cooking which you didn’t like in the first place.
But now the Chief Justice seat is open season for the five most senior associate justices, and from the looks of it, Carpio enjoys the edge. He is the uncle-in-law of the President’s daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, and it is true that in the feudal values continuing to obtain in the country, blood is thicker than water. Who will the appointing power favor but the one in the family?
Fearing that Carpio’s appointment as Chief Justice is a done deal, his detractors are worried. They see in the man’s predilection to lying a fearsome darkness of character. And particularly if he lies without qualms on issues with lasting impact on the nation, they imagine what sinister things he can do to the country once he gets to be the top magistrate.
Reputedly the leading advocate of the Philippines’ claim to certain areas of the South China Sea, Carpio has been very vocal in asserting what he perceives as the Philippines’ victory over China in the arbitral proceedings at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at the Hague. I join Carpio’s critics on this score.
As far back as the intensification of the Obama pivot to Asia in 2012, I began to perceive that as the US fought its proxy war, for whatever reason, with Russia through the Syrian Civil War, so must it fight a similar proxy war, again for whatever reason, with China to exercise its assertiveness in the region. For fighting such a war, the US has no one else to turn to for a theater than the Philippines, given the country’s geographical location as well as its continuing military ties with the US, through the MDT, the VFA and the EDCA. By virtue of these agreements, the US can very well intervene in the event of any attack on the Philippines by a foreign power. The filing of the arbitral case at the Hague, coming as it did in direct succession from the Scarborough Shoal standoff in 2012, already betrayed the US hand in the maneuver.
In one of my columns toward the end of 2015, I made a fearless forecast that the Philippines would win at the PCA, such being what the US had intended for pursuing its own agenda in the South China Sea. True enough, in early 2016, the PCA ruled that China’s nine-dash-line claim to almost the entire South China Sea was illegal. By that ruling, the Philippines is perceived the winner in the case and thus placed in a position to push its victory against China.
My own say on the issue is that China saw early on the US machination in that arbitral case. So, it did not recognize the jurisdiction of the PCA over the matter, did not participate at all in any of the proceedings by that body. So, the Philippines won over nobody. How could the Philippines push a victory over nobody?
Carpio’s seeming obstinacy in pushing the PCA ruling is what has been worrying me most. An outburst of armed hostilities between the US and China in the South China Sea may not yet be the kind of nuclear confrontation that could lead to mutual annihilation of the belligerents. Expert analysts place damage in such war as controllable on either side. That was what has happened in Syria. No substantial damage was sustained by either US or Russia in their homelands. But what happened to Syria? The country has been reduced to smithereens. That’s just the kind of senseless shredding the Philippines will suffer if China and the US went all out in their military confrontation over the South China Sea.
And Carpio regards himself a patriot by advocating to bring about the country’s Armageddon?
Carpio’s ascent as Chief Justice could be the ultimate enlightenment on the fact that with the country’s polity, in which the Supreme Court can superimpose itself over both the legislative and executive branches of government, a foreign power need no longer launch an armed invasion to capture the Philippines. Just seize the head of the Supreme Court and you get your military objectives done.
In 1991, the Senate voted against the extension of the military bases agreement between the Philippines and the United States. Thus were all America’s military installations in the country dismantled. For a period, the US resorted to the sinister plan of separating Mindanao from the Philippine Republic through the MILF insurgency. An independent Mindanao could open frontiers for new US military bases. However, with the failure of the MOA-AD reached by the MILF with the Philippine government in 2012, the US came up with a cleverer, much easier gambit: the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). By this maneuver, the US need no longer build its own bases in the Philippines but instead just use all the bases of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for US military purposes. It took just acquiescence from President Noynoy Aquino, and presto, the US got AFP installations for its objectives, including storage of nuclear weapons.
China is not stupid not to see through this ploy. And its various spokesmen have been all very candid in saying that in the event of a US attack on China, those AFP bases will be the subject of retaliation.
Opposition to EDCA was made in various forums. Legislators wanted that deal to be subject to ratification by Congress. The matter was raised to the Supreme Court — which ultimately ruled that EDCA was legal.
Finally, all the above serve as deductions to clarify one fact: with Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio as chief justice, America rules the Philippines.