West Philippine Sea

China rushing reclamation to show ‘effective occupation’

RISING FAST Aerial surveillance pictures show a massive garrison-like structure under construction in the Chinese-occupied Keenan Reef in the disputed West Philippine Sea. Photo Vera Files

RISING FAST Aerial surveillance pictures show a massive garrison-like structure under construction in the Chinese-occupied Keenan Reef in the disputed West Philippine Sea. Photo Vera Files

Last of two parts

A Philippine military source believes that the indigenous fighter jets that China unveiled recently will be tested in disputed areas in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea), a move that is likely to be followed soon after by imposition of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).

Military sources say at the rate it is going, China’s reclamation will be completed within the year. And the rush is supposed to be dictated by a timeline of possible decision on an arbitration case filed by the Philippines that will determine maritime entitlements of reefs occupied by China in the disputed area.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) expects a resolution from the arbitral tribunal next year.

The military sources point to implementation of ADIZ in the area as the end goal of China to exercise effective control and jurisdiction in the disputed area.

“By then, whatever the decision of the [tribunal], China shall already have demonstrated effective occupation with their permanent military presence there. What to do then with the decision declaring those features as rocks having only 12 nautical miles (NM) of territorial sea when what you have standing on them are fortified air and naval bases?” one source said.

In the arbitration case pending before the international tribunal, the Philippines asked the court to declare that certain features such as rocks do not generate maritime entitlements beyond 12 NM. This would cover Johnson (Mabini) Reef, which the Philippines described as a rocky protuberance at high tide; Cuarteron (Calderon), which is composed of coral rocks reaching higher than 1.5 meters at high tide; and Fiery Cross Reef (Kagitingan), a submerged protruding rock not higher than one meter at high tide.

But the latest surveillance military photos will show the expanse at which those supposed rocks have grown, since the massive reclamation was discovered last year. Johnson or Mabini Reef has now a total land area of 7.94 hectares or 79,464 square meters (sqm). The 1.5-meter high coral rock Cuarteron is now 11.97 hectares or 119,712 sqm.

And Fiery Cross, which was originally a submerged bank and no more than one meter tall at high tide, now has a three-kilometer airstrip with a naval harbor for patrol ships.

Gaven Reef as of February 2013 only occupied 1,032 sqm but as of January 30 this year had a reclaimed land area of 78,867 sqm. And being constructed there is a six story-building complex that seemed to the military as a future administrative office with a floor area of 4,128 sqm.

The Philippine is among six claimants to the oil-rich Spratlys chain of islands in the South China Sea. It occupies nine islands called the Kalayaan Island Group. China, Taiwan and Vietnam claim the whole of the South China Sea. Other claimants are Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam.

In 2013, the Philippines submitted for compulsory arbitration a case to declare among others the nullity of China’s nine-dash line claim over the whole of South China Sea. It is seeking relief from the arbitral tribunal to declare that the submerged features within and beyond 200 NM of the Philippines are not part of China’s continental shelf. Therefore, Manila said, China’s occupation of those features violates the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Admittedly, the DFA said, the decision of the arbitral tribunal is toothless, a moral suasion and international pressure at best, even if the Philippines wins the case against China. Even a regional Code of Conduct being forged by Asean and China will then also have to contend with the reality on the ground–how to deal with China’s immovable presence there.

Asean groups Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.


After China shall have garrisoned the disputed areas in the South China Sea, former Philippine Air Force officer and now Magdalo party-list Rep. Francisco Acedillo said the arbitration decision and whatever it is worth legally will be irrelevant.

“How poorly we have prepared for an eventuality of a challenge to the occupation of our islands,” Acedillo noted.

VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”


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  1. Whatever the decision of the UN will be irrelevant once all the islands are occupied. With an airbase just miles away from the Philippine coast the Chinese can effectively control traffic in the West Philippine sea and we cannot do anything about it but file diplomatic protests. How can we expect help from the US when the US is not even a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas (UNCLOS).

  2. While Philippines is protest,protest,protest China is build,build,build.Result of our coward and traitor President.Minamalas tayo pagdating sa presidente,what we need now is a military takeover with civilian/military junta.What we need are the military officers from 1986 to the present to lead the way and save the country from a lunatic leader.

  3. While the Phil. is awaiting for the decision of the international arbitral tribunal, our government should start the development/ reclamation of other shoals within our territory.. let us follow the way China is doing..

  4. Why the chink can’t do in Viet sea what they do in west phil sea? Because the viet have patriot leaders who fought the chink when they tried to dig in Viet territory. Here, the chink is no longer digging in our territory but pouring cement building almost a city – as if there is no Phil government to think about. And the chink is rushing building structures knowing we don’t have a running government until a new leader will come out in 2016 election yet.

  5. Vicente Penetrante on

    As on Mamasapano, is Pres. Aquino freezing again on the Chinese reclamation of reefs on the Spratley islands?

  6. Ruben V. Calip on

    And the traitors Aquino, Deles and Coronel-Ferrer are supported not just by Malaysia and the Muslim countries but also by the World Powers–USA, Britain, France, Australia, Japan, etc.

  7. Ruben V. Calip on

    Communist Party-ruled China is doing exactly what the MILF is doing to win against the Republic f the Philippines. China rushes things to prove “effective occupation” of our sovereign territory. MILF rushed the signing of the unconstitutional and anti-Filipino Comprehnsive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB), based on the also unconstitutional Framework Agreement, both of which the traitors in OPAPP helped create. And now MILF is rushing BS Aquino’s lap dogs (mga tuta) in Congress to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law to achieve “effective occupation” of our sovereign territory that they will declare independent of our Republic.
    The only difference is there are no traitors in the West Philippine working with China but in Mindanao the crazy de facto president, his Peace Process Adviser and his Chief Negotiator are all working with the Malaysians and the MILF to fragment our country.