PHILIPPINE authorities sighted three Chinese coast guard ships and numerous construction materials within the vicinity of the disputed Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal over the weekend, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said on Tuesday.
During the budget hearing of the Department of National Defense at the House of Representatives, Gazmin told the Congress that the authorities patrolling along Panatag Shoal, also called as Bajo de Masinloc, have seen an apparent attempt to construct a structure in the territory.
“As of 31 August 2013, we have noticed the presence of three coast guard ships in Bajo de Masinloc and we have also sighted concrete blocks along the Shoal which is a prelude to construction,” Gazmin said.
In the photos taken by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Battle Staff dated August 30, there are 30 weighing concrete blocks, a white buoy (float), an unidentified concrete platform, and two vertical posts scattered in different areas of the territory.
China aggressively claims that Panatag Shoal is part of their territory using their nine-dash map. The map also includes Spratly Islands—believed to be rich in maritime resources and natural gases—which is also being claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei as part of their territory.
Last year, a standoff erupted in the area between the Philippine Navy and Chinese authorities.
The AFP has already submitted a report to the DND, Department of Foreign Affairs, and the Malacañang on Monday to relay the incident and the DFA is yet to come up with sanctions.
Rep. Walden Bello of Akbayan Party-list fears that the incident will become another case of Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, wherein Chinese men built structures in the territory in the late 1990’s and slowly turned it into a forward naval station.
“This is very alarming with respect to what happened in Mischief Reef in late 1990s. Are these moves to create a Chinese fortification in Philippine territory?” he asked.
Bello ordered the DND to coordinate with the negotiators in the DFA to bring the latest development to the United Nations, where a diplomatic protest was recently filed by the Philippines against China.
“If we follow history, that is the direction your honor,” Gazmin said.
Gazmin told reporters after the hearing that the authorities are unsure when the construction materials were put into the disputed territory since aerial and naval forces do not regularly patrol the area.
“We don’t regularly patrol the area,” he said, adding that the Air Force only patrols every three days or even once a week depending on the weather and the availability of the aircraft.
He also said that the Philippines has no capability yet to put a permanent security in the shoal.
“What is important is to put security there. We don’t have the capability as of the moment to do that,” he said.
What the government can do, according to Gazmin, is to protest the Chinese activity and sought arbitration from the international court. JHOANNA BALLARAN