MS 30th Anniversary XXX

PANATAG BUILDUP: Palace, military brass clueless on goings-on

MalacaÑang and the military’s top brass Friday could not confirm reports that China has started building structures in Panatag Shoal amid claims by sources that defense officials have already in their possession “satellite photos” of the Chinese buildup in the area. Palace deputy spokeswoman Abigail Valte said they would ask the Armed Forces of the Philippines to verify the report “out of 1prudence” but insisted that the military did not see any Chinese activity area in their last “ocular.” “They (AFP) would be on the lookout first for any indications (of Chinese structures) during the next ocular,” she said. The reported “buildup” by the Chinese on Panatag shoal has prompted lawmakers to urge President Benigno Aquino III to immediately convene the National Security Council to address the matter. But in a separate interview, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista said he cannot confirm the reported “satellite photos. “Wala kaming confirmation dun, e galing yata sa inyo report e. Wala namang satellite ang Armed Forces,” said Bautista, who, along with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, met with United States Pacific Command chief Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III. On Thursday, sources said that at least Chinese ships had been seen on the shoal unloading sacks of gravel, stone, cement, and metals. Locklear arrived in the country on Thursday for a two-day visit. In a statement, the DND quoted Locklear as saying that the US was taking note of the present capability of the AFP in the wake of the country’s territorial disputes with China but will not take sides on the issue. Locklear, Gazmim and Bautista met at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City where they discussed “regional security issues and PH-US defense and military relations.” “The Admiral discussed how the US could contribute in enhancing the capability of the AFP in meeting emerging security challenges to include maritime security,” the DND said. “Modalities of increased rotational presence of the US in the Asia-Pacific and in the Philippines were also discussed to include high value and high impact exercises.” Meanwhile, a separate source said that “higher headquarters” has directed the Northern Luzon Command to dispatch surveillance planes to Panatag in connection with the reported activity of the Chinese in the area. NOLCOM is led by Lt. Gen. Anthony Alcantara. The Panatag Shoal was where the standoff between Manila and Beijing started in April last year. The Chinese also intruded recently into Ayungin Reef, one of three reefs within the Kalayaan Island Group municipality in Palawan. Also on Friday, several lawmakers said that there is now a need for the Philippine government to convene a National Security Council to address the continuing aggressive action by the Chinese in Panatag Shoal. Re-elected Marikina Rep. Miro Quimbo and opposition stalwart, Maguindanao Rep. Simeon Datumanong said that the China’s continued bullying of the Philippines should not be taken for granted. Quimbo, a House deputy majority leader, said that the reported putting of structures on the shoal was “serious.” “I am confident that the President is handling this matter in a manner of what is best for our country,” Quimbo told the Manila Standard.  “Let us support the President and show that we are one in supporting his initiatives.” Datumanong also underscored the need for the Aquino government to convene the NSC at the soonest possible time. “Since these activities of China have been going for sometime unabated, the National Security Council should be convened for the appropriate government action/ response on the matter,” said Datumanong, former justice secretary. Earlier, House Assistant Majority Leader Sherwin Tugna of party-list Citizens Battle against Corruption, however, said that China’s construction of structures on the disputed Shoal was ‘illegal.’ “That is clear intrusion of Philippine territory, in accordance with territorial bounds prescribed by UNCLOS,” said Tugna, a member for the majority of the House committee on foreign affairs. With Florante Solmerin  and Maricel V. Cruz      
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