PH town given power to name sandbars to assert sovereignty vs China
MANILA, Philippines—The municipality of Kalayaan in the West Philippine Sea is taking a step to strengthen the country’s claims by naming the three sandbars between Pag-asa (Thitu) Island and Chinese-occupied Zamora (Subi) Reef.
Kalayaan Mayor Roberto del Mundo said an ordinance on naming the sandbars is currently awaiting approval by the municipality’s legislative body.
It will be submitted to the Task Force West Philippine Sea, a national government task force which protects the country’s interests in the disputed waters.
“Kami po ay binigyan ng karapatan ng task force na lagyan ng pangalan ang mga sandbar na ‘yan para maging malakas po ang ating claims (We were given authority by the task force to name the sandbars to strengthen our claims),” said Del Mundo at an online forum hosted by the National Youth Movement for the West Philippine Sea last Sunday (July 12).
There are three sandbars between Pag-asa and Philippine-claimed but China-controlled Zamora Reef.
These sandbars have emerged only in recent years and are part of Pag-asa’s 22-km territorial sea.
In 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the Philippine military to stop the construction of a shelter supposedly for Filipino fishermen, on one of the three sandbars, after China protested because of a previous agreement not to occupy new features in the South China Sea.
When the Philippines started its upgrade of Pag-asa Island with the construction of a beaching ramp and sheltered port in 2018, dozens of Chinese militia vessels have stayed near the sandbars on a daily basis.
These vessels were said to have prevented Filipino fishermen from going near the sandbars.
Pag-asa is the seat of power of Palawan province’s municipality of Kalayaan that was established in the late 1970s to assert the Philippines’ claim to the Spratlys, an archipelago of more than 700 reefs, islets and atolls in the South China Sea.
China’s expansion of administrative claims
In April, China set up two district governments on the Paracel and Spratly Islands under Sansha City amid rising tensions in the South China Sea. It also released names for about 80 geographical features in the disputed waters.
The Philippine government protested the move, saying it does not recognize the Chinese names given to some of the features in the Kalayaan Island Group.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, including waters claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.
It has refused to acknowledge the 2016 ruling of the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which invalidated its claim and declared it had violated the Philippines’ sovereign right to fish and explore resources in the West Philippine Sea, waters within the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
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