PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Palawan: China’s reclamation and construction activities in the Spratlys are part of its strategy to eventually “take control” of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), Kalayaan Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon said on Tuesday.
Bito-onon believes that China is building artificial islands because Beijing is “mainly focused on strengthening its military strategic positions.”
“China now has a different approach because instead of putting a garrison on top of a reef, they’re making now an island. An island that was never created since the creation of the world,” he told reporters.
“Massive [really is the]construction on Mabini Reef and that would lead probably to the total control of the South China Sea,” the mayor said.
According to Bito-onon, he, too, was a victim of bullying by a Chinese sea patrol. He did not elaborate, however.
The mayor said the Chinese “posturing” at sea “is affecting the freedom of navigation,
which creates fear.”
Bito-onon is hoping that claimant countries will undertake “joint development” of contested territories in order to peacefully resolve the conflict in the South China Sea.
“With the way China is [going], displaying what they have, their warships and their actuations and behavior, I hope [such moves]don’t lead to a more violent situation,” he said.
“We’re looking for arbitration so that the world can say that [in the Philippines, we follow the law, we respect the]laws of the sea,’” Bito-onon added.
He said the Chinese construction of structures at sea has not affected the safety of Kalayaan but, he added, this may not be for long.
“Sa ngayon hindi pa pero if you look at the trend, that would be different in a matter of three to five years kasi mabilis silang gumawa [Right now, it has no effect on the security situation, but if you look at the trend, that would be different in three to five years because they work fast],” the mayor told reporters.
“The equipment that are there, based on pictures, are not something that are ordinary,” he said.
The mayor noted that China’s actions at sea should prod the United Nations arbitral court to act swiftly on a case filed by the Philippines against China.
“What I want is [for the UN court]to speed up resolution of the case so that we can also start moving in developing tourism in Kalayaan,” he said.
The Philippines had sought arbitration under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to pursue its claims in the West Philippine Sea.
It has filed several diplomatic protests against China over incursions by Chinese boats into resource-rich areas of Panatag Shoal and Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) but Beijing had dismissed these protests.
But the “real and present” threat to the country’s security is the reason why the Philippine Navy is shifting to “territorial defense role.”
Philippine Navy chief Vice Admiral Jesus Millan admitted that the challenges are enormous but that the Navy is committed “to carry out its mandated role.”
“The menace of various threats to national security and territorial integrity are real and present. The geopolitical landscape changes with the latest developments and volatile situation in the region,” Millan said in his speech during the Navy’s 116th anniversary on Tuesday.
“But the Navy commits and remains steadfast to surmount the odds and meet the expectations of our people. We will perform while we continue to transform,” he added.
The Navy on Tuesday celebrated its anniversary at the new headquarters of the Naval Forces West in Palawan province, the naval station primarily in charge of the West Philippine Sea.
“The naval base [on Ulugan Bay in the province]will be at the forefront of our maritime security operations in support of the Western Command,” Millan said.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd denied that the holding of the event in Palawan has anything to do with the country’s dispute with China.
“This is our geographical facility closest to an area where we have a lot of interests,” he said. “And instead of delaying the ability of our forces to respond to anything, be it a man-made or a natural disaster, it is logical to put them in a position where they can address the particular issue at the soonest possible time,” the President added.
Aquino stressed that countries who have claims to areas in the West Philippine Sea should not build structures on disputed reefs.
He said the Philippines may again bring the issue to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the United Nations’ International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea.