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Senate to probe reported deployment of Chinese missiles

The Senate will investigate the reported deployment by China of missiles on three Philippine-claimed reefs in the Spratly archipelago, and press the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to explain how it will respond to Beijing’s actions, Senate leaders said on Sunday.

An opposition lawmaker also said on Sunday that he would file a resolution in the House of Representatives for an investigation of China’s “creeping invasion” of Philippine territory in the South China Sea.

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US news network CNBC, citing sources with direct knowledge of US intelligence reports, said last Wednesday that China had deployed antiship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems on Kagitingan, Zamora and Panganiban reefs in the Spratly archipelago.

China neither confirmed nor denied the report, but foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said “China’s peaceful construction in the Spratly archipelago, including the deployment of necessary national defense facilities, is aimed at protecting China’s sovereignty and security.”

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said the Senate committee on foreign relations should get to the bottom of the controversy.

What’s really happening

“Yes, [the] Senate foreign relations committee should first find out what really is happening and then have a closed-door confidential briefing on how the DFA intends to handle what is happening on the ground [after this is confirmed],” Pimentel said in a message to reporters.

He said the committee chaired by Sen. Loren Legarda could begin its investigation upon the resumption of Congress on May 15.

In a text message from Bonn, Germany, where she was attending a climate change conference, Legarda said on Saturday that the Philippines should protest China’s deployment of missiles on its territory regardless of the country’s increasingly friendly ties with Beijing.

“We should protest the militarization of the contested areas, regardless of the perpetrator,” she said.

“The reported missile deployment by China in the contested areas in the West Philippine Sea should be met with grave concern,” she said, using the local name of the waters within the Philippines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.

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“Our authorities need to verify these reports soonest, and if proven true, there is no recourse but to protect our territorial and sovereign rights and interests,” Legarda said.

Eruption of violence

She said the increasing Chinese buildup in the contested waters could lead to the eruption of violence.

“The militarization of the contested areas serves no purpose and only heightens the risk of an outbreak [of] hostilities in the area—a situation [that] this administration is trying hard to prevent through its consistent friendly engagement with China,” she said.

But Legarda added that the Philippines’ primary tools of engagement with China “should be rooted in diplomacy.”

This, she said, should include “pursuing to the fullest extent our options” under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and “harnessing our relations with other parties with a shared interest for a peaceful settlement of disputes in the region.”

Kagitingan, Zamora and Panganiban are internationally known as Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief reefs, respectively, and they are among the marine features in the Spratly archipelago that are claimed by China and the Philippines and three other Southeast Asian nations—Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Taiwan, like China, claims all of the Spratlys, an archipelago of about 100 islets, reefs and atolls in the middle of the South China Sea.

House probe

In a statement issued on Sunday, Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice said he would file a resolution in the House for an investigation of China’s “creeping invasion” of Philippine territory.

Erice said the House must look into how China’s missile deployment on the three Philippine reefs would “impact not just our security situation but more importantly its effect on our trade and economy.”

“Absolutely, any Philippine government initiative to exploit and make use of our natural resources in our exclusive economic zone will be compromised under a situation where the military forces of China have already taken our islands,” Erice said.

Another opposition lawmaker, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, took exception to presidential spokesperson Harry Roque’s statement that “we are confident that those missiles are not directed at us.”

Zarate said that even if the missiles were aimed at other countries, the Philippines would still bear the brunt of the ensuing retaliation.

“The fallout from the increasing militarization of the West Philippine Sea would surely affect our country whether it be a shooting war or not,” Zarate said in a statement.

Roque said on Friday that the Duterte administration was “concerned” over the missile deployments, but added that with the Philippines’ “recently developed close relationship and friendship with China, we are confident that those missiles are not directed at us.”

Diplomatic means

Roque, however, said the administration would “explore all diplomatic means” to resolve the issue.

Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano also said on Friday that the government was taking the reported missile deployments “seriously” and was “verifying the information.”

He said the government would take “every and all diplomatic action” to safeguard Philippine territory.

Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon, senior vice chair of the House national defense committee, on Sunday also described the missile deployments as “creeping militarization and creeping invasion.”

“The direction that China is said to be our friend, national interest calls for us to be concerned that there are military equipment or weapons that entered the country at their will,” Biazon said in a radio interview.

He called on the government to undertake “diplomatic effort to express displeasure” with China’s actions.

Vice President Leni Robredo on Sunday expressed alarm over the missile deployments, calling them a violation of international law.

In a statement, Robredo urged the Duterte administration to take immediate action, including filing a diplomatic protest, to protect Philippine sovereignty.

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TAGS: Aquilino Pimentel III, Chinese missiles, Koko Pimentel, Maritime Dispute, South China Sea, West Philippine Sea
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