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PH losing shoal control to China

Beijing ignores Manila, starts Panatag buildup China has started to construct “structures” in the Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal as it continues to ignore Manila’s diplomatic protests and efforts to bring the dispute for arbitration before the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Sources said on Thursday that military and defense officials have in their possession ‘satellite photos” which shows that the Chinese were starting to construct structures on the shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc, which sits within the country’s 200 nautical mile, exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea. “The defense and military establishments have already in possession satellite photographs of what the Chinese were actually doing on our shoal. At least three Chinese big ships in a rotation basis are maintaining  presence on the shoal aside from fishing vessels that were unloading sacks of gravel, stone, cement, and metals ,” one of the sources said. Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin had said in earlier interviews that the Chinese had roped up the shoal to prevent Filipino fishermen from entering the area. “Yung tali na ginawang bakod ng mga Chinese sa Panatag ay kasing laki ng hita ng tao,” another source said, adding it would only take a “few more weeks” before these new Chinese structures will be completed in the shoal “with the Chinese flag flying”. Malacanang, however, refused to make any comment on reports that the Chinese had started bringing construction materials to Scarborough Shoal. “The Armed Forces has denied knowledge of the alleged satellite photos,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said. Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez, on the other hand, did not reply to text queries on the reported activities of the Chinese vessels. 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. At the same time, Tugna said that the report warrants the need for the Aquino government to convene a National Security Council meeting to tackle the problem. “I believe that the Executive Department should tackle this issue immediately and again bring China’s bullying to international attention,” Tugna said. “The requirements in calling for a National Security Council are present,” Tugna added. It was in Panatag Shoal where the standoff between Manila and Beijing started in April last year, after Chinese ships prevented Philippine  Coast guard personnel from arresting the Chinese fishermen caught poaching in  the area. Over the past several months, the government issued several diplomatic protests against Beijing,  and even brought its case before the United Nations for arbitration. But the Chinese had continuously ignored the protests and snubbed Manila’s invitation to send a representative in the international tribunal. And in an effort to avert a direct confrontation, the Philippines agreed to pull out its ships from the shoal.  The Chinese, however “reneged” from the agreement by not pulling out all its ships. The Chinese also intruded recently into Ayungin Reef, one of three reefs within the Kalayaan island Group (KIG) municipality in Palawan, which is clearly within Philippine territory. Aside from the three reefs, the KIG is comprised of seven islets  within the Spratlys, which China claim in its entirety. Other countries that claim parts of Spratlys include Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, and Malaysia. Amid the continuing standoff between Manila and Beijing over the disputed territories, the United States had ratcheted up its presence in Philippine waters. This year alone, the US has paraded an array of modern warships in Philippine shores as part of its “Asian pivot” and in ensuring  the balance of power in Asia Pacific in the wake of China’s growing aggression against its neighbors in South East Asia. On Thursday, the US Embassy in Manila announced that a Navy submarine tender USS Frank Cable and submarine USS Asheville (SSN 758) are set to arrive in Subic Bay on June 7 and June 8, respectively. This is the second time that the USS Frank Cable, described as a “support ship” has visited the country this year. The US calls  the visits of its warships in Philippine waters as  “routine port calls” but the warships  suspiciously make their way in the country every time Beijing presses its claim over Philippine territories in the Spratlys. Some of the US warships which had made their port calls since January include the USS Freedom (LCS1),USS Tortuga (LSD46), USS Ohio, USS Decatur, USS Emory S. Land (AS39), USS  Blue Ridge USS Stockdale (DDG106), USS Cheyenne (SSN773), USS Guardian (MCM5) (that met its demise at Tubbataha Reef), among others. The ships’ arrival also coincided with the presence of US Pacific Command chief Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III in Manila. Locklear arrived on Thursday for a meeting “with his counterparts,”  obviously referring to military and defense officials. Before arriving in Manila, Locklear, who will stay in the country for two days, also attended security conference at the Shangri-la Hotel in Singapore together with the defense ministers from Asia Pacific nations. During the Singapore meeting, Locklear re-affirmed the US’s 62-year-old Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines. With Maricel V. Cruz and Joyce Pangco Pañares
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