THE Philippine showed its compliance with an existing agreement with other claimants in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) when it stopped construction of a temporary shelter for Filipino fishermen in a sandbar near Pag-asa Island in August.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Wednesday said the Philippines found a sandbar some 2.5 nautical miles from the Philippine-occupied Pag-Asa Island and attempted to put up a temporary structure that could be used by Filipino fishermen fishing in the area.
“We brought our people there [sandbar]to put structure for our fishermen… and then [China saw it],” Lorenzana told reporters in an interview after attending the “Asean Leadership Amid a New World Order” forum organized by Strabase Albert del Rosario Institute.
He said China immediately brought the issue to the attention of the Philippine government, citing the agreement between the Philippines and China regarding non-occupation of new features in the South China Sea.
Lorenzana did not mention the particular agreement but the Defense chief could be referring to the non-binding 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).
Under the DOC, all claimant countries committed not to inhabit any new features in the contested waters.
“There was an agreement about status quo… No occupation of new features, so if the sandbar just appeared, we consider it a new feature and I think it is right,” Lorenzana said.
He added that China was correct in saying that the sandbar is a new feature and since the Philippines agreed not to inhabit new features in the South China Sea, it did not push through with the construction of the shelter for the fishermen.
Lorenzana said it was President Rodrigo Duterte who ordered that the construction be stopped after he was informed by Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano about China’s complaint and the existing agreement on the new features .
Duterte on Tuesday said that he would stress to Chinese President Xi Jinping that the Philippines is not giving up its territorial claim to the Spratly Islands when he meets with the Chinese leader during the Asia-Pacific Economic Summit in Vietnam.
“It would be the time that I’d be frank with China,” the President added in his speech.
The Philippines has adhered to the non-binding DOC since it was signed in 2002.
Beijing has built several structures on several islands in territories in the disputed waters despite the existence of the agreement and a ruling of the international tribunal granting sovereign rights over the territories.