The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Tuesday said that it is awaiting confirmation about reports of China’s “fresh violations” in the contested West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
“Jointly with DND [Department of National Defense], we are committed to look at ways to appropriately address this issue,” Raul Hernandez, Foreign Affairs spokesman, said.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Tuesday showed a map of the disputed Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal where three Chinese coast guard vessels were sighted, as well as concrete blocks, believed to be used for new construction.
During the budget hearing at the House of Representatives on Tuesday, Gazmin said showed photos of what appears to be the start of a construction of a structure at the territory.
“As of 31 August, 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,” he said.
The photos showed 30 weighing concrete blocks, a white buoy, an unidentified concrete platform, and two vertical posts scattered in different areas of the territory.
Gazmin’s report alarmed Rep. Walden Bello of Akbayan Party-list, saying it could be similar to what happened in Panganiban (Mischief) Reef wherein China built structures in the late 1990’s and slowly turned it into a forward naval station.
“This is very alarming. Are these moves to create a Chinese fortification in Philippine territory?” he asked.
Bello urged the DND to coordinate with the DFA to bring the latest development to the United Nations, where a diplomatic protest was recently filed by the Philippines against China.
Gazmin told reporters after the hearing that they are unsure when the construction materials were delivered.
“We don’t regularly patrol the area,” he said, adding that the Air Force only patrols every three days or once a week depending on the weather and the availability of an aircraft.
The dispute over Panatag Shoal erupted in April 2012 following a standoff between the country’s warship BRP Gregorio del Pilar and two Chinese surveillance ships that came to the rescue of eight Chinese fishing vessels that illegally harvested corrals and giant clams within the Philippine territorial waters.
The West Philippine Sea has become a hotspot because of overlapping exclusive economic zones (EEZ) and extended continental shelf (ECS) claims by the Philippines, China and other countries.
WITH REPORTS FROM JHOANNA BALLARAN AND WILLIAM DEPASUPIL