75 blocks found in shoal
MANILA, Philippines—Defense officials on Wednesday said a military aerial survey had spotted more concrete blocks installed by China in the Scarborough Shoal, calling the latest Chinese incursion as “a neighbor taking over one’s garage without permission.”
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin the other day said a Navy aerial photograph taken last Saturday had shown 30 concrete blocks at Scarborough indicating Chinese intentions to build fortifications in the disputed reef.
But a second reconnaissance flight on Monday showed that there were actually more blocks, around 75, occupying a two-hectare area in the northern section of Scarborough, defense spokesperson Peter Galvez said on Wednesday.
Prelude to construction
Galvez said the extra blocks, and the extent of the area occupied, may have been missed by the earlier flight. He did not release the photograph, however.
Galvez said the concrete blocks, measuring about 2 ft by 2 ft, could be used as platform foundations, “a prelude to any other form of construction.”
Gazmin, who last June described China’s incursion into Philippine territory as already being “in one’s garage,” likened the latest Chinese action to “a neighbor who took over your garage without asking permission.”
He said any Chinese construction at the disputed shoal would be in violation of the Declaration of Conduct (DOC), a nonbinding confidence-building agreement signed by Beijing and its neighbors in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to refrain from actions or hostile acts that could inflame tensions in the flashpoint region.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei on Wednesday rejected the Philippine allegations.
“What has been said by the Philippines isn’t true. Huangyan Island is China’s inherent territory,” Hong told state television CCTV in an interview, using the Chinese name for the shoal.
“In accordance with the constitution, Chinese government ships maintain routine patrols in waters of Huangyan island to safeguard our sovereignty over Huangyan island and to maintain order of relevant waters. That is China’s legitimate right and interest and it is beyond dispute,” Hong said.
China claims most of the South China Sea, including waters close to the coasts of its neighbors.
Scarborough Shoal is about 220 km off the main Philippine island of Luzon, within the country’s internationally recognized exclusive economic zone.
The outcrop is about 650 km from Hainan island, the nearest major Chinese land mass.
Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Raul Hernandez on Wednesday said diplomats were trying to independently confirm the surveillance photos before lodging an official diplomatic protest.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the government was planning to file the protest against China’s seeming buildup in the Scarborough Shoal and is looking at other possible courses of action.
“We intend to file a diplomatic protest and, as well, we are evaluating our other options,” Del Rosario said in a text message.
Last year alone, the Philippines filed as many as 15 official protests against Chinese incursions into Philippine territory. Last January it angered Beijing when it asked a United Nations tribunal to rule on the validity China’s claim to the entire South China Sea.
The Inquirer learned that the government’s security cluster would be meeting today to discuss the issue as China’s latest move has been described by top security officials as an “effective occupation” of Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal), a small group of reefs and rocky outcrops within Philippine territory in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).
President Aquino yesterday called the Cabinet to an “executive session” to tackle a number of sensitive issues, possibly including the latest development in Scarborough.
Mr. Aquino met with the full Cabinet, including Vice President Jejomar Binay, for at least four hours. Interior Secretary Mar Roxas did not attend because of a prior appointment.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the President decided to hold an executive session because there were “sensitive matters” to be discussed. But he declined to disclose the agenda of the meeting or if it included the Scarborough incident. With reports from Nikko Dizon, TJ Burgonio, Tarra Quismundo, Tina Santos and AFP