Philippine Navy dismantles foreign marker on Spratlys
MANILA, Philippines — A fresh attempt believed to be by a claimant-country to put a marker in one of the disputed Spratlys islets within Philippine-claimed territory in the West Philippine Sea was foiled last June 5, a senior Navy official disclosed on Wednesday.
Commodore Edgardo Tamayo, commander of the Naval Forces West based in Palawan, said their forces have dismantled a marker that was put up in Boxall Reef, which is 105 nautical miles from mainland Palawan.
He said Boxall Reef was only 20 nautical miles from Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal), a Philippine Navy-occupied islet within the chain of islands that the Philippines collectively calls the Kalayaan Island Group.
“On June 5 again it was reported that our local fishermen found another marker. I directed our patrol boat to check on the veracity of the report, and that was in Boxall Reef, only about 20 nautical miles away from Ayungin Shoal,” Tamayo said in a phone interview.
The discovery of the marker in Boxall Reef came in the heels of the discovery last May 24 of steel posts, a buoy and other building materials laid out by Chinese vessels in Iroquois Reef (Amy Douglas Bank), which the Philippines claims to be within its 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
Manila filed a diplomatic protest over the Iroquois Reef incident, and said China “aggressively violated” the 2002 Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.
The 2002 non-binding agreement signed by member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and China urges the claimant states to exercise restraint and avoid activities that might escalate tension, such as construction of military facilities and the holding war games.
The Spratlys is claimed by six nations namely the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.
Tamayo said Filipino fishermen saw activity in Boxall Reef during the first few days of June and then reported to the Navy on June 5 that they have spotted a marker.
“Our floating assets saw and confirmed the marker, the same marker that was found at Amy Douglas. That marker has the same description,” he said.
He said the marker was about 10 feet long and about four inches wide and likened it to a flat bar.
“This was confirmed to be found at the Boxall Reef,” he said, adding the marker was dismantled on June 6.
“We pulled out the marker to serve as evidence to prove that we saw that in that place,” Tamayo said.
Asked if the marker was suspected to be from the Chinese, Tamayo said they did not see markings.
“We did not see any markings that will tell us [it came from the] Chinese, [nor] any Chinese characters. So I surmise it is suspected from foreign origin. According to our informants, they suspect it to be Chinese because at that time they witnessed while it is being laid out,” he said.
“One thing sure is it is from foreign origin; it did not come from our local fishermen,” Tamayo said.
Tamayo said Philippine Navy forces subscribed to the intention of the Declaration of Conduct to avoid any conflict.
“Personally I should say that following the intention of the conduct, supposedly we should be on status quo, meaning to say that we avoid putting up any particular structures like markers that would raise tension or raise conflict. That was the intention of th code of conduct.
“We should avoid that so there will be no conflict. We abide by that view. We avoid incidents that would create tensions. We subscribe to the intention of the code of conduct,” Tamayo said.
Tamayo said it was local fishermen who reported to them on May 24 that a buoy was placed in the Iroquois Reef (Amy Douglas Bank) which is some 60 nautical miles from Recto Bank (Reed Bank).
Recto Bank, which is only 80 nautical miles from Palawan, is not part of the disputed Spratlys, according to the government.
He said fishermen dismantled the buoy but Navy still found the marker.
“The marker was still there. It was approximately 10 feet and laid out in the area of the Amy Douglas. We took the marker to serve as evidence that there was really a marker that was found in Amy Douglas,” he said.
With a report from AFP