Panatag Shoal won’t be another Mischief Reef, PH defense chief vows
MANILA, Philippines—Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Friday assured that Panatag Shoal (Scarborough) off Zambales will not be another Mischief Reef.
The statement came after the Department of Foreign Affairs said that the Philippines will no longer protest the presence of concrete blocks in Panatag, saying that there were no “determination of facts.”
The Philippines accused China in early September of allegedly putting concrete blocks in the disputed territory.
Gazmin said then there were at least 75 concrete blocks in Panatag as of their Aug. 31 aerial survey.
“I don’t think [it would be another Mischief Reef], because we have regular air and sea patrols,” Gazmin told reporters.
Gazmin said the blocks have algae, an indication that they were already old.
“Well now, we have seen that they are old. But how did it get there? In other words, these were newly discovered but it doesn’t mean they were newly put,” he said.
“This is new to us because we have just seen it recently. At that time it was low tide. Maybe during previous missions it was on high tide so we did not see it,” he said.
He could not say, however, how old the concrete blocks were.
In 1995, structures built by China were sighted in the Mischief Reef, an area near Ayungin also within the Philippine exclusive economic zone, where the Chinese put up a military garrison.
These were reportedly built initially to provide shelter for fishermen, but were later transformed into a military garrison.
Gazmin emphasized that the arbitration case still continued.
The Philippines had sought for arbitration under the United Nations Conventions on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to pursue its claims in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). It filed a diplomatic protest in January as Chinese ships continued to come and go into the resource-rich areas of Panatag and Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal). Both areas are within the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
(Editor’s note: Reposting story to correct earlier one that said it was in August when Gazmin made remarks about sighting 75 concrete blocks during an aerial survey)
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