Chinese intrusions in PH-claimed parts of Spratlys ‘alarming,’ says Gazmin
MANILA, Philippines—Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin has decried as “alarming” the increased Chinese incursions into Philippine-claimed territory in the South China Sea.
He was particularly slighted that the latest intrusion occurred while Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie was in the country for an official visit last May 21 to 25.
“It’s alarming in the sense that the intrusions are increasing. They are staking claim on the areas where we do not have a presence. They want to hoist their flag so they can claim the area,” Gazmin said at a televised news forum sponsored by the Philippine Information Agency on Wednesday.
During their talks at the Department of National Defense building last May 23, Gazmin and Liang reassured each other that they were after a “peaceful resolution” of the Spratlys territorial dispute and that they would “avoid unilateral actions that would cause alarm.”
The DND and the Armed Forces of the Philippines belatedly learned that Chinese ships were spotted unloading an undetermined number of steel posts and a buoy in the vicinity of the Amy Douglas Bank on May 21 and May 24.
The Amy Douglas Bank is 125 nautical miles away from mainland Palawan, which is within the Philippines’ 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone.
The military reported the intrusion on May 27.
Gazmin said he did not know about the incident while Liang was in the country. “Somehow I’m really affected because we have shown them our hospitality and we were talking properly. We agreed that all problems could be resolved. And yet while we’re talking, something was afoot elsewhere,” he said.
“We want to know if this was sanctioned by the leadership or if this was planned without the knowledge of the (Chinese defense) ministry. We have to make certain (if) this is known by the defense officials,” he went on.
Gazmin said he would take up the matter with Liang during the top-level Asia security forum in Singapore over the weekend.
“Given the chance I will,” he vowed, adding he would also raise the issue with his counterparts in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
“We have to respond diplomatically on this particular issue. The most we can do is file a diplomatic protest. That’s the most civilized thing to do at the moment,” he said.
Gazmin said they have been forced to focus on building up the military’s external defense capability.
“Because of the recent increased incursions and violation of territorial waters, we have to take a serious look into external defense. We’re now trying to mix internal security operations and territorial defense in our plan,” he said.
“Our option is a diplomatic protest. We are in no position to confront those intruding in our area because we don’t have the capability. That’s why we’re pursuing capability upgrade,” Gazmin also said.
AFP Chief of Staff Eduardo Oban Jr. said there have been “five to six” incidents of intrusions by the Chinese side so far since the start of the year.
He said they would increase patrols while working on acquiring radars for a more complete coast watch system to monitor the country’s territorial waters.
“We’ll have more frequent patrols,” Oban said at the news forum.
Asked what the military would do if the intrusions continued, Gazmin replied: “We will keep on filing diplomatic protests.”
Oban said fishermen discovered the steel posts and buoy, and dismantled them themselves before turning them over to the military.
Gazmin said President Aquino has been briefed about the incidents. He said the President would issue an executive order to beef up the defense of the country’s territorial waters through an inter-agency coordination on maritime security.
“We are on the verge of coming up with a capability upgrade of assets in the area to address these problems. We want to get assets to provide security in the disputed area,” he said.