Military keeps cool amid China buildup in Panatag

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THE Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will not do anything drastic that will disturb the peaceful resolution of the territorial conflict in the West Philippine Sea even if China continues to build structures at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.

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Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, chief of the Public Affairs Office of the AFP, said on Wednesday that unless otherwise ordered by higher authorities, they will continue to stick to their mission which is to monitor the situation.

“We’ll have to stick with what our government is doing right now and our government is pursuing a peaceful resolution through arbitration,” Zagala said.

“The AFP will follow whatever the leadership of our government says, especially our commander in chief and the leadership the commander in chief has taken is through peaceful means and unless ordered to change our mission, we stick to monitoring,” he added.

The Navy, he said, regularly conducts patrols by air and submits whatever its findings to higher government officials or agencies for their action.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin earlier confirmed that the Chinese were building structures at the shoal, located some 134 nautical miles off the coast of Zambales.

At least 30 pieces of concrete blocks measuring two feet by two feet were found submerged in Panatag for foundation purposes.

Despite the discovery, Zagala said, the AFP will not take any action, except to monitor the area.

The spokesman of the Department of Defense said more concrete blocks were found in Panatag on Wednesday.

Aerial surveillance discovered about 75 blocks scattered on a section of the shoal, according to Peter Galvez.

“These can be used for platforms (or) foundations, that is why we said earlier this could be a prelude to any other form of construction,” he told reporters.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei rejected the Philippine allegations.

“What has been said by the Philippines isn’t true. Huangyan Island is China’s inherent territory,” Hong said in an answer to a question posed by state television CCTV at a press briefing, using the Chinese name for the shoal.

“In accordance with the constitution, Chinese government ships maintain routine patrols in waters of Huangyan Island to safeguard our sovereignty over Huangyan Island and to maintain order of relevant waters. That is China’s legitimate right and interest and it is beyond dispute.”

WITH A REPORT FROM AFP

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