THE Philippines will follow the lead of China and Vietnam and develop islands under its control in the disputed South China Sea, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Tuesday.
“My plan of action is also to develop all the islands there because they are occupied by us,” Lorenzana said, referring to China’s aggressive posturing in the South China Sea and evidence of its massive reclamation projects in various disputed islets and atolls.
The government has alloted funding for the rehabilitation of a runway at the Philippine-held Pagasa Island, a few nautical miles away from Puerto Princesa.
Modern facilities have also been built at Pagasa intended to support the 300 inhabitants, including communication facilities and ports.
Lorenzana gave no technical details of the projects that would be established in all of the Philippine-held islands.
At the same time, Lorenzana said, the Philippines is set to file a diplomatic protest of China’s militarization of the South China Sea and the recent harassment of Filipino fishermen by the Chinese coast guard.
Reports said China has been deploying soldiers in Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef, in violation of Beijing’s recent commitment not to militarize any of the reclaimed islands in the area.
“Our stand here is that we will register our protest through the Department of Foreign Affairs because I know for a fact that the Chinese government sometime ago said that they are not going to militarize those reclaimed islands,” Lorenzana said.
Fiery Corss is located in what Manila calls the West Philippine Sea and is within the victinity of the Kalayaan Group of Islands near Palawan.
Pamalakaya, a group of militant fishermen, urged the government to file a protest over China’s transformation of Kagitingan Reef into a full-scale military airbase.
Kagitingan Reef is part of the disputed Kalayaan Group of Islands in the Spratly region of the South China Sea. It is part of the Philippines’ 220-naughtical mile exclusive economic zone.
In 2004, China began to construct an artificial island on the reef.
A recent report from a Hong Kong-based news site said the reclaimed island now features a 3,125-meter runway for strategic bombers to land.
“The Philippine government must pursue filing a diplomatic protest to condemn and expose Beijing’s aggressive usurpation in our marine territory. China destroys not only our marine biodiversity but also the livelihood of our Filipino fishermen who used to fish in the West Philippine Sea. The continuous reclamation of our waters in the West Philippine Sea is also a threat to our domestic supply of fish products,” Fernando Hicap, Pamalakaya chairman, said in a statement.
The group hit Lorenzana for “dilly-dallying” on defending the country’s territory.
“Why would Secretary Lorenzana have to wait for the complete militarization of Kagitingan Reef before filing a diplomatic protest? It seems that the complete transformation of our resource-rich reef into military airbase is not enough for the government to get alarmed over this outright foreign invasion. The government’s indecisive action is the reason why China has been able to swiftly reclaim our waters and construct military facilities without us knowing,” Hicap said.
The group also urged the government to assert the international tribunal ruling that invalidates China’s claim over Philippine waters.
The Palace, however, said that China had not breached its good faith obligation because it has not embarked on new reclamation work in the South China Sea.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said that while aerial photos showed the extent of development on Kagitingan Reef, this was one of the islands that China had already reclaimed.
“And this is one of the islands subject of the arbitral tribunal’s decision that it is within the Philippine economic zone,” Roque said.
“When we invoke the good faith of China, it is against making further reclamations and not making further works on islands that it had already reclaimed,” he said.
But he added that if China militarizes these islands, that would constitute a further threat to peace and security in the area.
“But for as long as there is [no] reclamation of new islets or reefs, then we continue to respect that they are true to their commitment... But I think from the very beginning, China, we knew, was militarizing the area by reclaiming these areas and by using them as military bases,” Roque told reporters.
“The point is, has there been a breach of Chinese commitment not to reclaim any new islands or shoals in the area? None. The good faith we’re relying on is the commitment of China not to embark on new reclamations,” he added.
Roque agreed with Lorenzana that filing a diplomatic protest was the proper remedy.
COMMENT DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted on this Web site are not in any way endorsed by Manila Standard. Comments are views by manilastandard.net readers who exercise their right to free expression and they do not necessarily represent or reflect the position or viewpoint of manilastandard.net. While reserving this publication’s right to delete comments that are deemed offensive, indecent or inconsistent with Manila Standard editorial standards, Manila Standard may not be held liable for any false information posted by readers in this comments section.