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Carpio blasts Order of Sikatuna honors given to Chinese envoy

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua and retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio. ABS-CBN News/file

Carpio: Our national heroes must now be turning in their graves

PASAY CITY – Outgoing Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua may have received praises from Malacañang and the House of Representatives but not from retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who criticized the awards given to him Thursday.

“Our national heroes who died defending our territory against foreign invaders, must now be turning in their graves,” he told a gathering of lawyers who are graduates from the University of the Philippines College of Law, where he is an alumnus.

Carpio was the guest speaker for UP Law’s alumni homecoming at the Marriott Hotel in Pasay City.

In his speech, he questioned the basis for President Duterte’s conferment of the Order of Sikatuna with the Rank of Datu on Zhao in late October as well as the House of Representatives’ grant of a Congressional Medal of Achievement to the outgoing ambassador last Monday.

The Order of Sikatuna is an order of diplomatic merit conferred upon individuals who have rendered exceptional services to the Philippines. Malacañang recognized Zhao for his “vital role in a growing and more robust bilateral relationship between the Philippines and China.”

The House of Representatives meanwhile commended Zhao for fostering “stronger bonds of very good friendship between the Philippines and China” which led to the “golden age of Philippines-China bilateral relations.”

Lawmakers credited Zhao for facilitating 4 state visits of President Rodrigo Duterte to China and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to the Philippines in 2018, the first state visit by a Chinese president to the country in 13 years.

Under Zhao’s tour of duty, lawmakers said China became the Philippines’ top trading partner and more Chinese tourists arrived in the country.

Carpio, however, pointed out that in November 2018, Zhao wrote an article in The Philippine Star where he hailed China’s and the Philippines’ close geographic proximity and blood and cultural ties.

“Being separated by only a narrow strip of water, China and the Philippines have been close neighbors for centuries, sharing not only geographic proximity, but also blood bonds, cultural affinity and a long and sincere traditional friendship,” Zhao said, before touting the progress in Chinese-Philippine bilateral ties.

Carpio offered a different take on Zhao’s statement.

“Ambassador Zhao was saying to the entire Filipino people, the Philippines and China are already close neighbors because the nine-dash line is China’s national boundary in the South China Sea, leaving the Philippines with only a sliver of water as its territorial sea and exclusive economic zone,” he explained.

“For this, Ambassador Zhao was conferred a congressional medal of achievement by our House of Representatives. Of course, our House of Representatives will just follow President Rodrigo Duterte who earlier conferred on Ambassador Zhao the Order of Sikatuna with the rank of datu,” he added.

The nine-dash line is China’s basis for claiming rights over much of the South China Sea.

But the 2016 South China Sea arbitral tribunal ruling rejected this claim as having no legal basis in international law.

Carpio, who retired from the Supreme Court last month, has been a staunch critic of the Philippine government’s stance on the West Philippine Sea issue and its refusal to enforce the arbitral ruling.

He reiterated these criticisms Thursday, saying there are several ways to enforce the arbitral tribunal’s ruling without having to resort to war, the prospect of which President Duterte often cites in justifying his position.

“The Duterte administration however has chosen to put aside the arbitral ruling in exchange for loans and investments from China. These loans and investments have not been coming as promised, as admitted by Foreign Secretary Teddyboy Locsin,” he said in his speech.

ABS-CBN News is still seeking the side of Zhao, Malacañang and the House of Representatives as of writing.

Zhao is set to end his post in the Philippines this month after a 5-year stint.

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