‘What do they want us to do?’ Palace defends admin over China buildup on reef
“What [do] they want us to do?”
That was Malacañang’s statement on Monday after aerial photographs obtained by the Inquirer showed that China was almost finished transforming seven reefs claimed by the Philippines in the disputed South China Sea into island fortresses.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque defended the government, saying the reclamation in the disputed islands in the South China Sea were already there during the term of former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.
“If the Aquino administration was not able to do anything about these artificial islands, what [do] they want us to do? We cannot declare war — not only is it illegal, but it is also contrary—but it’s also, because it’s impossible for us to declare war at this point,” Roque said in a Palace briefing.
But contrary to Roque’s claims, the Aquino administration had protested China’s island-building before the United Nations arbitral tribunal.
Photos taken between June and December 2017 showed the reefs that had been transformed into artificial islands in the final stages of development as air and naval bases.
Roque said the reclamation was not new and it “did not happen overnight.”
“As I said, this militarization, if you can call it militarization, did not happen during the Duterte administration alone. It’s been long militarized and the question is, ‘What can we do? What did the past administration do and what can we do?’ he said.
He said China’s militarization in the disputed sea was no longer news.
“So you know when I saw the headline, yes, it’s a fact perhaps, but is that news? I don’t think so,” he said.
“Those islands were reclaimed during even the time of the former administration. They were complete in fact during the time of the previous administration, and I think whether or not we like it, they intended to use them as military bases,” he added.
The Palace official reiterated that the Philippine government could only rely on China’s promise that it would not embark into new reclamation in the disputed sea.
“So, what do you want us to say? All that we could do is to extract a promise from China not to reclaim any new artificial islands. But what you featured in your newspaper today, are old reclaimed islands that were there even before the Duterte administration came to office,” he said.
Under the Duterte administration, Roque said there had been “no new reclamations” and “no new artificial islands” built by China.
“Our position is everything found on this islands we’re already there when the President took over. So let’s not talk of a militarization that happened under the Duterte administration, if there is such a militarization which China denies,” he said.
“But what I’ll just say that the intent to use or to station military hardware has always been there even before the entry of the Duterte administration,” he added.
Roque said the government was monitoring progress in the disputed islands.
“Who says we are not monitoring? I get briefings and I can tell you we know what ships are plying where. We know about the work,” he said.
“But the question is, ‘What can you do?’ You can protest and I think there is a protest already filed even before. What else can be done? Well we’ll continue relying not only the principle on good faith; we also continue to rely on the general prohibition on the use of force which is found under international law. And we expect that China being not just a member of the United Nations but also a permanent member of the Security Council will adhere to the prohibition on the use of force,” he added.
Amid the reported continued militarization of Beijing in the South China Sea, Roque said the Philippines would continue to maintain ”close ties” with China.
“Right now, the posture of the President is maintain close ties so they wouldn’t have any reason to use those arms in those islands,” he said.
Roque also answered the claim of Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said that the Philippines would stands to lose 80 percent of its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea if the government would not assert its legal victory in the disputed waterways.
“Well, I do not know how to react that – that appears to be speculative. I don’t think there’s been an instance when China has curtailed freedom of navigation despite the fact that they have weapons in these reclaimed islands. So to me, I can’t answer on a speculative question. We hope not – because after all, all countries that our duty are under obligation to refrain from the use of force, that is illegal under international law,” he said.
Carpio, he said, was entitled to his own opinion.
“This is a democracy, he’s entitled to his opinion. But I would expect that next time, we would read his opinion in the form of a court decision – because that’s the function of the judicial branch of government,” he said. “Or as I said, he could run an elective, legislative position if he wants to make policy for government.”
The Philippines in July 2016 won a landmark victory after the United Nations arbitral tribunal favored the Philippines diplomatic protest against China, which invalidated Beijing’s sweeping claim to the South China Sea. /je
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