THE Department of Foreign Affairs said no reclamation activities have been seen the disputed Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal), refuting the claim of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
“Clarification: Sec. Lorenzana said he thinks China will reclaim land at BDM; pero wala naman actual na reclamation na nagaganap [but no actual reclamation is happening],” Charles Jose, assistant secretary and spokesperson of the DFA, said in a text message.
Panatag, located 124 nautical miles northwest of Luzon, is also locally called Bajo de Masinloc.
In an interview with Agence France-Presse, Lorenzana said he believed that China will eventually reclaim Panatag Shoal, just like what it did to seven reefs in the Spratly Islands that is claimed by four other nations.
The Defense secretary surmised that the island reclamation was intended to secure Beijing’s control in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
“That could be their strategy to counter any superpower that would encroach on South China Sea because they believe South China Sea is – that’s like their lake to them – theirs,” he was quoted as saying.
In a separate text message, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said that the Philippines got an assurance from China that there will be no construction or militarization at Panatag Shoal, adding that the last report of installation at Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef) apparently intended for military purposes was completed before President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office.
China claims over nearly the entire South China Sea, believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas; and has transformed submerged reefs into military outposts equipped with radars, landing strips and huge buildings.
“We will not hesitate to take appropriate action should that happen [again],” Yasay said.
A United Nations-backed tribunal last year affirmed the Philippines’ sovereign rights to areas within the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone, including Panatag Shoal and Mischief Reef. MICHAEL JOE T. DELIZO