"It’s always a constant struggle to present the truth...You just cannot give up"—Justice Antonio T. Carpio

The Senior Associate Justice on the nine-dash lines, martial law, and social media.
IMAGE Lawrence del Mundo

Antonio T. Carpio
67, Senior Associate Justice

I have a caveat: this is my personal opinion. You have to free me from any constraints.

I started researching on the nine-dash line in 2010. I went to Sec. del Rosario, and I explained to him that it’s about time we go to UNCLOS. I said there’s a way out of it. I said, “don’t  believe me. Go to the experts in Europe and the U.S. and ask them if this is doable.” They said it was doable.

People I talked to—historians—would say that China had an older civilization. Anything old that we could get, China could get something older. That was the stumbling block. I had to do my own research. I went to the ancient maps. I found out there was no nine-dash line throughout entire dynasties. It was started only in 1947. Our own historians had a mindset that China could always present an older document. But the Chinese emperors never knew Scarborough Shoal ever existed.

I went to about 18 countries abroad—maybe about 35 cities. I would talk before a leading university, a leading think tank, the Filipino community and a foreign ministry. They asked me: “what do you want us to do?” I told them: “First say that arbitration is a peaceful settlement of dispute.”

I knew we would win at the tribunal. The nine-dash lines are totally incompatible with the law of the sea.



There are only two ways for China to comply with the ruling. China will comply on its own or the world will pressure the Chinese people.

The Chinese are imprisoned in their mindset. They’ve been taught that way, so we have to help them get them out of that mindset. We know it’s wrong. An impartial and very competent tribunal said it was wrong—there’s no historical evidence. Even the independent Chinese scholars know it’s wrong. We cannot blame them because they were taught that way. So we have to help them.

A lot of people still don’t understand. The only thing that can prevent a barter of our sovereign rights is when the people know it belongs to them. When the people know it belongs to them, you cannot barter it away.

China has the military might. We are trying to win this through international law, to get compliance through world opinion. We are not alone.

I know in the end that China cannot prevail. No country will accept China’s position.

I didn’t want to take up law but my father said “you’re the last boy—nobody’s taking up law. You take up law.” But when I took up law I started to like it.

I’m an optimist—despite the might of China. Everybody says “we’re fighting a windmill.” But we don’t really have any choice. The only other choice is to give up and give it to them. If we do that, we might as well be a satellite of another state. To remain sovereign and independent, we have to think that way.

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Truth will reinforce your sovereignty.

You have to look at the long game. Take the long perspective. But if you know what you’re doing is right, you know you’re legally and morally correct, then I think you have a very good chance of succeeding.


You cannot erase what happened during martial law. It’s there in the Supreme Court decisions: there was plunder, massive violation of human rights, no democracy, it was a dictatorship. It’s all there. There will always be people who take the opposite view, but when historians write about it, when people in law school read the cases, they will know.

I think there will be times when you forget but it will never be forgotten. It’s part of our history.

It’s always a constant struggle to present the truth, against those who try to distort the truth. You just cannot give up.


They always say before there can be reconciliation, there must be some justice—a reparation or an admission of wrongdoing. Then you have closure.

At the end of the day you cannot change history.

The earth is a planet that is ticking like a time bomb. We still have massive numbers of nuclear bombs lying around. It’s a very precarious existence.

Social media is a very powerful tool but it’s also susceptible to machination.

The new generation might be different. Look at the Japanese. They don’t even want to change their constitution to allow them to send warships abroad. They’ve become a pacifist nation. Times have changed. They have to think of their existence.


This story was originally published in the February 2017 edition of Esquire Philippines. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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Sarge Lacuesta
Editor at Large, Esquire Philippines
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