By Beting Laygo Dolor i Contributing Editor
After being refused entry to Hong Kong, retired Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales raised the possibility that she was also under cyberattack by China.
This, after Carpio-Morales along with former Foreign Affairs Sec. Albert del Rosario, filed a complaint against Chinese President Xi Jinping before the International Criminal Court (ICC) three months ago.
The pair had asked the ICC to investigate alleged Chinese crimes “committed not only against the Filipino people but also against people of other nations.” In short, they accused China of crimes against humanity.
Since that time, Carpio-Morales as well as her legal counsel Anne Marie Corominas had been experiencing what they said were suspicious interceptions of phone calls and emails.
A communication from the ICC came two days late, Corominas said, when emails are usually received within seconds or minutes after they are sent.
Corominas said she and the former Ombudsman have been under constant cyber-attack since being part of the Philippine team that challenged China’s claim of total and complete ownership of the South China Sea before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. The Philippines won that case, filed during the time of former President Benigno Aquino III.
Even back then, when she was working in Malacañang as an assistant secretary, “we were under constant cyber-attack,” according to Corominas.
Last week, Carpio-Morales said she had “become paranoid” over the suspected cyber-attacks, since her legal counsel had experienced several instances of delayed transmittal of official email correspondence, crashing of their communications devices, and worst of all hearing Chinese voices interrupting their phone calls.
She added that she had been receiving text messages ostensibly coming from her friends but she was sure they did not come from them.
Fears were likewise raised that Senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Antonio Carpio was also being spied on electronically, as he was at the forefront of the Philippine case against China.
Carpio recently said he was aware that his phone calls and email “are being monitored by China.”
In his recent visit to China, President Rodrigo Duterte asked why the country’s powerful neighbor was claiming all of the seas in the region. Although relations between the Philippines and China have become exceptionally close during the Duterte era, incursions by Chinese fishing vessels into Philippine waters have lately become cause for concern.
Besides the Philippines, China also has conflicting claims on various parts of the South China Sea with Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia. The Philippine claim covers mostly the Spratly and Paracel island groups.
The contested waters are not only rich fishing grounds but are also believed to have a rich supply of oil and natural gas.
China has refused to recognize the judgment of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff warned that the expansion of China’s presence throughout the South China Sea, portions of which the Philippines refers to as the West Philippine Sea, posed a serious threat to the stability of the region.
Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., the US’s highest ranking military officer, said last week that China must be checked, preferably with diplomatic and economic steps.
While the US does not take an official stand on the conflicting territorial claims, it does insist on the so-called “freedom of navigation” principle recognized by the UN.
Under this principle, US warships as well as commercial vessels are free to sail through the waters claimed by China. On such occasions, China usually resorts to diplomatic protests especially when US warships are involved.
The US and China are currently deadlocked in an escalating trade war involving tariffs on goods.