Aerial photographs show an increase in Chinese military infrastructure in the West Philippine Sea, and as a threat upon our sovereignty it is most alarming. Some of the photos show a military-grade runway and Chinese planes on Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, which is located within the Philippines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone.
Recently, House of Representatives Party-list Representatives Gary Alejano (Magdalo) and Carlos Zarate (Bayan Muna) issued statements strongly warning against the Chinese militarization in the area.
Said Zarate, “China is obviously flexing its military muscle and endangering the fragile peace in the West Philippine Sea. This is highly condemnable and the Philippines should protest this provocative Chinese action.”
Alejano warned that the presence of the airstrip is not merely for display. “It is [only] a matter of time before the Chinese deploy their fighter aircrafts in [the] reclaimed islands as part of their strategic objective of controlling the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).”
He also asked the Philippine government to call out China, saying “I am hoping that [President Rodrigo Duterte] files a diplomatic protest this time around unlike before where government officials were reduced to spokespersons of China by justifying Chinese aggressive actions in the South China Sea.”
Coincidentally, the matter was brought up last Wednesday at a press conference held by the Department of Foreign Affairs. CNN Philippines tweeted that Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said, regarding negotiations for the West Philippine Sea code of conduct, “We are still focusing on how to go about it.” So we haven’t come up with a plan yet, considering the urgency of the matter?
This trend toward appeasing China is very disturbing. Why is the government allowing China to build what amounts to military bases within our territory?
That it is our territory is undisputed, and our claim to those islands were upheld in the July 2016 landmark ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague. That decision states that the Philippines has exclusive sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea and that China’s so-called ‘nine-dash line’ argument is invalid.
An October 2017 news report on Update Philippines claimed China has said that it has no intent to militarize the South China Sea. This was allegedly stated by Yao Wen, deputy director general for policy planning of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Asian department, when speaking to 25 Asian journalists covering the 19th Communist Party of China National Congress. Yao was said to have “admitted that China has been building structures in the reclaimed reefs and islands which are ‘within China’s sovereignty.’”
Moreover, Chinese President Xi Jinping told President Duterte that there would be no militarization in the WPS when they met in Vietnam last November for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit.
But in January 2018, Defense Chief Delfin Lorenzana said, after footage surfaced of an airbase build on Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef, “The Chinese government said sometime ago that they were not going to militarize those reclaimed islands,” he said. “If it is true and we can prove that they have been putting soldiers and even weapons systems, that is a violation of what they said.”
Well, for China to build military fortresses on some seven reefs, according to a recent news report, ano pa nga ba? How else are we supposed to take this? An airbase and a military airstrip are not in “good faith.”
Former National Security Adviser Roilo Golez was right when he said last February that the Philippines should not stay silent in the face of China’s construction spree in the West Philippine Sea.
“These pictures [of structures] confirm the militarization,” Golez said, “of the three artificial islands [Panganiban, Kagitingan, and Subi] and should be a ground for filing a diplomatic protest of the violation of President Xi’s [Xi Jinping] assurance last year that the artificial islands would not be militarized.”
We should get our heads out of the sand. We should stop being naïve about China. Golez, Lorenzana, Alejano, and Zarate are not the only officials calling for protests to be filed. We hope it’s not too late for something to be done.
Dr. Ortuoste is a writer and communication consultant. FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO