Esperon: China did not seize islet from PH
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. on Sunday disputed the claim of Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio that China had seized a sandbar from the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea.
In a statement, Esperon said the Chinese “did not occupy” Sandy Cay, a sandbar located around 4.6 kilometers from Pag-asa Island, the biggest island controlled by the Philippines in the South China Sea.
He said the Philippines would “not give up the sandbars.”
“They have not seized Sandy Cay which we claim to be part of Pag-asa atoll but many fishing boats — Chinese, Viet, Filipino — are in the area,” said Esperon, a former chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
He said Chinese Coast Guard and Navy ships were spotted in the area but the Chinese “did not occupy” the sandbar.
“The Chinese came too near, but did not occupy it,” Esperon said.
He said both the Philippines and China have overlapping claims over the sandbar and the area surrounding it.
“We claim that Pag-asa is part of Kalayaan municipality [while] China claims it to be part of their territory,” Esperon said.
“Therefore, the area remains as a disputed area. But of course, we are not giving up the sandbars,” he said.
Carpio on Saturday urged the government to act on what he called an “invasion of Philippine territory by China” as he confirmed that Chinese ships were now guarding a newly created island well within Philippine territorial waters in the West Philippine Sea.
Carpio said two frigates, a coast guard vessel and two fishing boats of China were guarding Sandy Cay and that these ships were “well within” the 22 km (12 nautical miles) territorial sea of Pag-asa.
The ships therefore could not claim “innocent passage” or invoke freedom of navigation in the high seas to explain their presence in the area, Carpio said.
“Sandy Cay is a Philippine land territory that is being seized (to put it mildly) or being invaded (to put it frankly) by China,” he said.
The senior Supreme Court justice was part of the team that won the arbitral ruling last year that invalidated China’s sweeping claims to the South China Sea that infringed on the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.