MANILA, Philippines — Amid long-running tension between Manila and Beijing over the hotly-contested West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin admitted that China has committed fresh violations over the disputed territory.
“We do not want to preempt the information…it has to go through channels yet. They made new violations [Meron silang panibagong violations],” he told reporters at Camp Aguinaldo but did not give further details, emphasizing that these violations were “very recent.”
Asked if the Philippines would file a protest, Gazmin only said he was still waiting for the documents.
The Philippines had sought for arbitration under the United Nations Conventions on the Law of the Sea to pursue its claims in the West Philippine Sea. It filed a diplomatic protest as Chinese ships continued to come and go into the resource-rich areas of Panatag (Scarborough) and Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal), which were both within the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
China claims nearly the entire sea and had been showcasing its aggressive behavior there, but the Philippines and other neighboring countries claim parts within their EEZ.
Only last week, President Benigno Aquino III canceled a scheduled visit to a trade fair in China after Beijing reportedly withdrew its invitation.
Meanwhile, in a radio report, Gazmin said at a budget hearing at the House of Representatives on Tuesday that concrete blocks were sighted inside the shoal in Panatag (Scarborough Shoal).
“[This] could be a prelude to construction,” he said of the shoal, which is located 124 nautical miles from Zambales.
Three coast guard ships were also sighted in Panatag Shoal as of Aug. 31.
A military source confirmed the presence of concrete blocks, and said that these were sighted last week by an aircraft.
He said it appears to be heading towards Mischief Reef or Panganiban Reef near Ayungin Shoal, which is located 70 nautical miles from Palawan.
Structures built by China in the reef were sighted in 1995.
The Chinese reportedly built structures initially to provide shelter for fishermen, but these were later transformed into a military garrison.
On Monday, Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said that China relayed conditions for Aquino to attend the China-Asean Expo in Nanning. He did not give details of the conditions but said these were “absolutely inimical to our national interest.”
Reports said however, that China wanted Manila to withdraw its arbitration case over the West Philippine Sea.