The report that 600 Chinese vessels had allegedly been circling Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea since January this year was just an “exaggerated claim,” an official said Sunday.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the Western Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines “never said” that hundreds of Chinese vessels were navigating around the Philippine-claimed Pag-asa Island.
“That [report] is according to the reporter who was there in Puerto Princesa during the RPOC [Regional Peace and Order Council] meeting,” Lorenzana told the Manila Standard
He made the statement even as an analyst warned Sunday the Chinese vessels that had been circling Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea were part of the intimidation tactics meant to give Beijing control of the strategic waterway.
The Philippine military on Friday expressed alarm at the presence of some 600 Chinese vessels near the sandbar.
“They have been a critical part of Chinese intimidation around the Senkaku Islands in the South China Sea,” said retired US Navy captain Carl Schuster, former director of the US Pacific Command’s joint intelligence center.
In a report by ABS-CBN News, AFP Western Command chief Elpidio Factor said “the foreign vessels monitored in Pag-asa Island were all Chinese fishing vessels deployed in the vicinity of the sandbar.”
“These vessels are considered Chinese maritime militia and are occasionally complemented by Chinese Coast Guard vessels to sustain China’s assertive presence in the vicinity of the sandbars,” Factor told ABS-CBN News.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the public should await the initial findings of a Cabinet cluster about the matter.
“I think we should await the findings of the cluster to know the truth about it and know what are the recommendations of the President, Nograles told reporters in Romblon on Sunday.
“We should await the recommendations of the President. But of course, there are diplomatic procedures that we need to follow and we will have to run through the process of the Department of Foreign Affairs.”
Lorenzana said Malacañang would reject the report.
“[Presidential Spokesman Salvador] Panelo will conduct a presscon tomorrow to clarify everything and to debunk this exaggerated claim, Lorenzana said.
This recent development came following a report that a Chinese coast guard vessel allegedly harassed Filipino fishermen in Scarborough Shoal.
The Palace then expressed the possibility that President Rodrigo Duterte might raise maritime issues in the disputed waters with China during his coming visit to Beijing next month for the 2nd Belt and Road Forum.
Senatorial candidate Gary Alejano criticized the Duterte administration following the issue, lambasting the government for its alleged failure to act on his warnings about the presence of Chinese vessels near Pag-asa Island in the contested waters.
“The government has been warned two years ago, but [the] President and his cohorts only downplayed the incidents. Not once did the President take seriously the issue of China taking away our territory and abusing our fishermen and soldiers,” Alejano said in a statement.
“As I have said before, China will continue to assert control in the Pag-asa Island sandbars despite the ‘friendly’ relations that the administration is trying to foster,” Alejano said.
“The sandbars are critical to China’s claim on the Subi Reef. If China seizes Sandy Cay, they will be able to claim Subi Reef as part of the territorial sea of Sandy Cay.”
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