Antonio Carpio: West PH Sea claim more important than Chief Justice post

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 14) — Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio says that fighting for the Philippines' claim in South China is far more important than officially becoming the country's top judge.

Carpio, who is a likely candidate to take the job more permanently, has not seen eye to eye with President Rodrigo Duterte's administration on how to handle the maritime row.

When asked whether his firm stance against China could cost him the Chief Justice post, Carpio said it was beside the point.

"What is more important for the nation is that we preserve our sovereignty and sovereign rights. If we lose these, we lose this forever," Carpio told CNN Philippines' The Source.

"That's far more important than any position. That's far more important than the presidency," he added. "The President can come and go, but our sovereignty stays with us."

The Senior Associate Justice was appointed to the Supreme Court since 2001, making him the longest serving judge there. According to his SC profile, he has penned over 800 full-blown decisions and "[left] no backlog in his docket." He is set to retire in 2019.

Carpio has also repeatedly urged the government to take on a stronger stance in defending sovereign rights in disputed waters.

However, Duterte has adopted a warmer stance in relations with the eastern giant, which has built military structures over the disputed islands and — most recently — taken local fishermen's catch.

While the government refused to call the incident harassment, Carpio said it was both harassment and theft. He urged the government to file a new case against China in the international arbitral tribunal following the event.

However, Malacañang has maintained that a new case would come at a cost and "reverse our diplomatic gains."

Among the other moves that Carpio has advocated to address the situation in the area are to file another case at the arbitral tribunal against China's destruction of corals there and an objection at the International Seabed Authority.

He also urged the Philippines, China and Vietnam to negotiate an agreement covering their common fishing grounds and for the Philippines to file a resolution at the United Nations urging China to comply with the 2016 arbitral ruling that recognized Philippine sovereign rights and invalidated Beijing's historic claims to practically the entire South China Sea.

He noted that the Philippines failed to file a UN resolution as Duterte closed billions worth of investment and loans with China.

"24 billion (dollars) in loans from China is a pittance compared to the value of the resources in the West Philippine Sea," said Carpio. "There's no comparison at all."                           

Carpio is leading the SC while the high court decides on the fate of ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Watch the full interview with Carpio here.