Other claimant countries in the Spratly Islands have far more modern facilities than the Philippines, a maritime domain patrol conducted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Command (WESCOM) shows.
GMA News, which was onboard the patrol aircraft, said it found Barque Canada or “Maskardo Reef” occupied by Vietnam, teeming with activities with ships and trucks in what appears to be a reclamation project.
Fiery Cross, also known as Kagitingan Reef occupied by China, meanwhile, looked like a city in the middle of the sea with structures and facilities that resemble modern-day cities.
Also, during the aerial patrol, members of the GMA team saw a nearby flotilla of Chinese vessels.
Pag-asa Island pales in comparison, equipped only with a runway and a recently constructed beaching ramp.
AFP chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. admitted that the Philippines needs to keep up with other claimant countries such as China, Vietnam, and other ASEAN member states.
“We are definitely lagging behind, by years, we should spend more for the development of these features,” Brawner said.
The Philippines claims nine areas including Ayungin Shoal. Vietnam occupies 38, China occupies 7 islands, Malaysia claims five, Brunei claims two islands, and Taiwan claims one.
Earlier, Beijing issued a new official map with a 10-dash line stretching over almost the entire South China Sea, claiming as Chinese territory the exclusive economic zones of several countries, including the Philippines.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri on Tuesday said the Philippines needs it allies to ward off Chinese aggression.
“We need the help of our allies whether we like it or not,” he said.
If China continues to use military and economic superiority in asserting its illegal claims over the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), he said the Philippines should tap its alliances and rely on friends to defend its sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea (WPS) During the joint hearing of the Senate committees on national defense, foreign relations, public works, and finance on the WPS situation, Zubiri cited the need to boost the country’s military capabilities.
The help, he said, should not only involve war equipment, but also economic assistance.
“They know that we can be held hostage by one country — China – when it comes to the economic agenda,” he said.
As China released its new map, Zubiri said more and more countries have been speaking up against its illegal, expansionist policy and supporting the Philippine claim in the WPS.
The Senate chief said the United States has already expressed support for the Philippine cause in the WPS, as have Australia, Japan, Vietnam, South Korea and even the European Union.
“I welcome the fact that the United States of America, in every discussion, in every fora, has said that they will stand by the Philippines if something should happen,” he said.
Meanwhile, Defense Undersecretary Ignacio Madriaga said the resupply missions to the Ayungin Shoal would be successful even without the assistance of the United States.
At the same Senate hearing, Madriaga said the resupply missions were successful due to the courage and intelligence of the Philippine Coast Guard, the Philippine Navy, and civilian personnel.
He said the Philippines will never admit that it’s not capable of resupply missions without the help of other countries.
Senator. Robin Padilla confronted Madriaga on reports there was a US aircraft hovering over the Philippine ship during the resupply mission at the Ayungin Shoal last week.
Padilla said Madriaga needs to clarify the presence of the Americans in the resupply missions and if they are prepared in case other countries will send their own planes.
But Madriaga insisted there was nothing illegal in the presence of an American plane.
What’s illegal, he said, was the presence of Chinese ships in the West Philippine Sea.
The AFP official added that the US plane was not there for war but for maritime domain awareness.
He added that this was an “eye in the sky” watching what’s happening.
Meanwhile, the PCG said the disinformation about the WPS perpetrated by China would not be so widespread if there was no state actor supporting it.
Coast Guard Spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela said only a few Filipinos support and defend China’s aggressiveness towards the Philippines.
Senator Risa Hontiveros inquired from Tarriela the source of intelligence reports that some Filipinos are betraying the country. She also asked if a disinformation campaign was state-sponsored by China.
Responding to the query, Tarriela said he got the information only from a media friend who received emails.
“As far as the Philippine Coast Guard is concerned, the only information that we have received is through our media friends, wherein some of those journalists that we know that support the efforts of the Philippine government in the West PH Sea, received emails trying to divert the attention and focus of the Filipino people. Instead of concentrating on the aggressive actions of China, they are diverting it to Vietnam. For the PCG, that’s the only information that we have,” Tarriela said.
Senator Jinggoy Estrada pressed Tarriela to say if he knows of any Filipino taking the side of China and asked if he was referring to columnist Bobi Tiglao of the Manila Times, who was the first to peddle claims that his father, former President Joseph Estrada, promised China to remove the BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal.
Tarriela responded that if Tiglao does not support the government’s stance on the West Philippine Sea, he might belong to the category of “traitors of the land.”
In a TV interview, a spokesman for the National Task Force-WPS said China performed “dangerous maneuvers” in the waters around Ayungin Shoal to intimidate Filipinos.
“It is also very dangerous that these maneuvers are being conducted by China because it is really hard to control the vessels. So, an accident may happen,” said AFP spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar in a report on “24 Oras.”
Aguilar also said international pressure should be brought to bear on Beijing’s “illegal and offensive action in the WPS.”