MALACAÑANG on Friday asserted the July 2016 Hague ruling against China’s encompassing claims to much of the South China Sea serves as a “bargaining leverage” against China amid issues surrounding the Reed Bank incident.

Asked if the arbitral ruling is indeed useless, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo said in a televised interview, Friday, “Hindi rin. (It is not) You know why? Kasi nagagamit natin eh… ‘Hoy, amin iyan sabi ng arbitral ruling, kaya nandito kami’. (We are using it, telling Beijing: ‘Hey, the arbitral ruling says we have a right to resources in that disputed area, that is why we are there’.”

Meron ka ngayong bargaining leverage. Kung wala yun, wala kang ibibigay na ‘anong basis niyo bakit kayo nandito? (We now have a bargaining leverage. If it weren’t for that ruling, we cannot justify our presence in the area.)”

At the same time, “[n]ag-uusap na nga bilang magkakaibigan, (We are talking as friends), so what we cannot get from the arbitral ruling through force or enforcement, we can get through friendly negotiations.”

This stemmed from the June 9 sinking of a Philippine fishing boat by a Chinese vessel which left 22 Filipino fishermen abandoned at sea, before they were rescued by Vietnamese counterparts.

Meanwhile, Friday also saw the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) asking the Supreme Court (SC) to inhibit Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio from participating in the Writ of Kalikasan petition seeking the protection and preservation of three shoals in the West Philippine Sea.

In a press release, the OSG said it filed the motion to inhibit Mr. Carpio from the case due to his “personal bias and manifest partiality.”

“It is interesting that even before the OSG filed its motion for inhibition, Justice Carpio already told the media that he will not inhibit in this case. This puts the OSG in a bind. Our motion will be an exercise in futility if the issue of his inhibition will be solely left for him to decide. It should be the Supreme Court, as a collegial body, which should decide on our motion,” Solicitor-General Jose C. Calida said.

The OSG said the grounds for Mr. Carpio’s inhibition are his active participation in the South China Sea (SCS) arbitral proceedings and “his continuing public pronouncements against the actions taken by the government in relation to the July 2016 arbitral award that ruled against China’s encompassing claim to much of the South China Sea.

The OSG also said Mr. Carpio’s “mere appearance” as a Philippine representative in the arbitral proceedings is sufficient ground for his inhibition from the petition.

“Justice Carpio’s participation before the South China Sea Arbitral Tribunal and knowledge of the facts and issues therein, coupled with his personal pronouncements and issuances leads to the impression he has already reached a conclusion and prejudged this case, even before the petitioners can present their case,” Mr. Calida said.

The OSG also noted that under the New Code of Judicial Conduct promulgated by the SC, a judge who is unable to decide on a case impartially should be disqualified.

The OSG said in its motion that Mr. Carpio has shown “penchant for projecting a foreign policy regardless of its alignment with the policies of the current administration” due to his public statements on the arbitral award.

“In the constitutional order of our government, the President has always been the chief architect of foreign policy. The Supreme Court has recognized this in several cases. A sitting member of the Court cannot supplant the authority of the President to direct our foreign policy,” Mr. Calida said.

The SC is set to hold oral arguments on July 5 on the petition for Writ of Kalikasan filed by a group of fisherfolk last April seeking the protection and rehabilitation of Scarborough Shoal (also known as Panatag Shoal), Ayungin Shoal and Panganiban Reef (also known as Mischief Reef).

The petitioners asked the SC to direct the government to enforce laws protecting the environment in the disputed seas, noting the Executive’s weak response to China’s activities there that are believed to be destroying corals and putting endangered sea life at risk.

Mr. Carpio on Tuesday also branded as unconstitutional Mr. Duterte’s statement that he was allowing Chinese fishermen to fish within the Philippines exclusive economic zone. — Charmaine A. Tadalan and Vann Marlo M. Villegas