Posts Tagged ‘Benham Rise’

The Philippines, China and the South China Sea: Corruption, Tricky Deals and Failure to Follow International Law

May 12, 2017

There should be a military unit exclusively to protect the resource-rich Benham Rise off Luzon’s Pacific coast. Former President Fidel Ramos proposed such sea-air-land force amid reports of foreign trespass in the 13 million-hectare undersea plateau.

Teeming with fish and believed to hold oil and minerals, Benham is within the Philippines’ extended continental shelf. Ramos, who once headed the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said an “Eastern Command” should be formed to guard it. The defense department could assign the task to the Navy, he said during the latter’s forum on ASEAN maritime security last Wednesday.

Chinese exploration vessels were sighted crisscrossing Benham waters for three months starting last Nov. One even stayed for a month in one spot, leaving only to hospitalize an injured sailor in Surigao City, northern Mindanao. Beijing alibied that the vessels merely were on innocent passage. But a southern China newspaper later reported the return of one vessel from a “special mission” to gather seabed sediment samples. Such specimens were to determine mineral presence and suitable submarine parking.

An Eastern Command could be based in an existing Cagayan naval station that also has airstrips, sources said. The station is half a day’s sailing time to Benham. It would be equivalent to the Western Command, based in Palawan, also under the Navy, guarding the exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.

Foreign fishers long have been poaching in the unguarded Benham seas. A coast guard patrol confirmed their presence last week. Ramos said the Eastern Command would protect maritime interests granted by the United Nations exclusively to the Philippines.

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Beijing’s narrative in the South China Sea is that it is only trying to retrieve historic territorial waters. And it supposedly is doing so legally and peacefully. But what’s the truth, based on ancient maps, historical records, and modern maritime laws?

Supreme Court Senior Justice Antonio Carpio extensively has researched the issues, presented in the e-book “Philippine Sovereign Rights and Jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea: The South China Sea Dispute.” Download and share it for free from the following websites:

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There’s blood in the hands of those who procured dilapidated Air Force combat-utility helicopters during the Aquino administration. There would be more if present officials ignore the P1.2-billion scam.

One of the 19 choppers crashed in Tanay, Rizal, last week, killing three airmen. Another crash-landed in clear weather in Sarangani last Nov. No one perished there, but danger signs already showed.

The defective aircraft already hit the headlines about this time two years ago. A Filipino broker blew the whistle on her estranged American partner who sold the units under suspicious circumstances. Exposed was that two biddings had been rigged three years earlier to suit one party. Better suppliers either walked out or were disqualified on flimsy technicalities. The biddings were declared failures. That paved the way for negotiated purchase from the favored American. Sixty-year-old UH-1D helicopters, double the age of the pilots who would fly them, were indented. Components from junkyards were assembled in an ill-equipped California factory. Signing the contract were the defense secretary, an undersecretary, an assistant secretary. Two generals endorsed and accepted the units – delayed, decrepit, and mostly inoperative.

In his 2012 State of the Nation, then-President Noynoy Aquino announced that nine of the choppers were en route to Manila. They arrived three-and-a-half years later. Some of the aircraft were displayed during the Air Force anniversary; none were flown because the motors wouldn’t start. A Senate inquiry ensued; warnings were aired about deaths and injuries from the unfit choppers; there was no final report. What stood out was the badmouthing by Internet trolls of the whistleblower and the few newsmen who reported on the issue.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

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Chinese ships’ passage off Samar ‘innocent’ – PCG

PCG spokesman Commander Armand Balilo said that based on information received by the PCG, the Chinese ship seen in the waters off Guiuan, Eastern Samar between January and March was a research vessel. File

MANILA, Philippines – A Chinese research vessel spotted off Eastern Samar was only making “innocent passage,” the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said yesterday.

PCG spokesman Commander Armand Balilo said that based on information received by the PCG, the Chinese ship seen in the waters off Guiuan, Eastern Samar between January and March was a research vessel.

“For as long as the Chinese ship was only passing through, then there is no problem… The Chinese ship was also monitored more than 200 nautical miles away from the shoreline,” Balilo said.

He said they have not received any report of irregularity in the activities of the unnamed Chinese vessel, like illegal fishing or dumping of waste into the water.

The PCG spokesman stressed there were other foreign ships in the area – including US and Japanese vessels.

On Wednesday, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) reported sightings of three Chinese ships in different parts of the country.

The AFP told the House committee on national defense that the Chinese research ship Xiang Yang Hong 03 stayed for nine days northwest of Vigan City in Ilocos Sur, while the Xiang Yang Hong 06 stayed for 19 days at 226 nautical miles northeast of Guiuan, Eastern Samar.

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Xiang Yang Hong 06

Another Chinese vessel Jiangkai, with bow number 525, was allegedly seen in Mindoro last April 23. It was reportedly following US Navy ship USS Stethem that was on routine operations in the area.

Balilo said that they have no information about the Chinese ships reportedly seen in Mindoro and Ilocos Sur.

Amid reports of increasing Chinese activities in Philippine waters, the military has started moving personnel and construction materials to Pag-Asa Island in the disputed Spratlys archipelago, in preparation for the construction of a beaching ramp and the concreting of the Rancudo Airfield.

A beaching ramp is needed so that ships could unload construction materials and equipment on the island.

Puerto Princesa City-based Western Command (Wescom) commander Lt. Gen. Raul del Rosario said units involved in the projects have left the Palawan mainland for their journey to Pag-Asa.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the administration has allotted P1.6 billion for the development of all nine military outposts in the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG).

“Our personnel along with some construction materials have already moved. They moved last week but they have to wait for more construction materials,” Del Rosario said.

But he could not say yet when the actual spadework would begin.

Building a beaching ramp requires dredging a shallow portion of the shoreline. At present, cargo or supplies for the island are unloaded from ships and ferried on small boats to the shore some 500 meters away. The procedure takes days or even weeks to complete.

Pag-Asa Island, which is also the seat of Palawan’s farthest fifth-class municipality, is located just 14 nautical miles from Zamora (Subi) Reef, which has been transformed into an island fortress by the Chinese.

Meanwhile, Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Secretary Fortunato de la Peña is pushing for more scientific studies on the resources in Benham Rise, also known as the Benham Plateau.

Dela Peña, in an address before the recent National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) regional scientific meeting in Cebu, said Benham Rise carries tremendous potential that could help the government realize its vision of reducing economic inequality.

Aside from its rich marine and aquatic resources, Benham Rise is believed to contain huge gas and oil deposits.

Benham Rise is a seismically active undersea region estimated to cover an area of about 13 million hectares located east of Luzon. It is 35 meters underwater with the shallowest point located off the provinces of Aurora and Isabela.

In April 2012, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea recognized Benham Rise as part of the Philippines’ continental shelf and territory.

“The Department of Science and Technology is focusing on strengthening research and development initiatives in various fields, including the fisheries sector because this will provide more opportunities for our marginalized fishermen in the regions and will help them uplift their economic condition,” Dela Pena said.  – Jaime Laude, Rainier Allan Ronda


 (The authors say, China prefers places with lots of poverty and corruption and not too much interest in rule of law or human rights…)


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For about five years China has been loudly proclaiming “indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea.” China has said, everything north of the “nine dash line” shown here, essentially, belongs to China.  On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China chose to ignore international law and nobody has even complained.

Philippines completes an 18-day scientific survey in the South China Sea

April 28, 2017


MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines has completed an 18-day scientific survey in the South China Sea to assess the condition of coral reefs and draw a nautical map of disputed area, a top security official said on Thursday.

Two survey ships, including an advanced research vessel acquired from the United States, conducted surveys around Scarborough Shoal and on three islands, including Thitu, in the Spratly group, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said.

“This purely scientific and environmental undertaking was pursued in line with Philippine responsibilities under the U.N. Convention of the Law of the Sea to protect the marine biodiversity and ensure the safety of navigation within the Philippines’ EEZ,” Esperon said in a statement.

He gave no details of the findings from the reef assessments and nautical mapping of the area done from April 7-25.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, but it appeared to have allowed the survey. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims in the strategic waterway.

Other countries in the region were regularly making scientific surveys in the area, said a navy official who declined to be named.

The navy official told Reuters the Philippines also conducts marine survey from time to time, but this was its first major undertaking since 2011, when a Chinese patrol boat harassed a survey ship hired by an Anglo-Filipino company to explore for oil and gas in the Reed Bank.

Esperon said researchers from the environment ministry, the country’s premier university and the navy took part in the expedition.

“This is the first leg of the expedition,” he said, adding the government also plans to conduct research in Benham Rise, part of the Philippines’ continental shelf, in the Pacific Ocean.

(Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Editing by Larry King)

South China Sea: Defense Secretary’s visit in islands “just routine” for the Philippines — But China was “gravely concerned about and dissatisfied” with the trip

April 23, 2017
Pag-asa Island, part of Palawan province, in the disputed West Philippine Sea is controlled by the Philippines despite Chinese claims of sovereignty over it. STAR/File photo

MANILA, Philippines — The visit of security officials to Pag-asa Island was routine and was in line with international law, Malacañang said Sunday after China expressed alarm over their trip to the island in the disputed Spratly chain.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and top military officials visited Pag-asa Island in Palawan province on Friday to inspect the facilities in the area, which is inhabited by about 200 people.
The visit was meant to enable officials to assess what improvements can be done in the island, the second largest in the Spratlys.
The government has earmarked around P1.6 billion to develop Pag-asa and is planning to build a beaching ramp, fish port, radio station, ice plant, water desalination facility, sewage facility and houses for soldiers.
The visit did not sit well with China, which claims historical rights over almost 90 percent of areas in the South China Sea, including Pag-asa.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said China was “gravely concerned about and dissatisfied” with the trip, which he claimed went against the consensus reached by Manila and Beijing “to properly deal with the South China Sea issue.”
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Lu Kang — File Photo
Lu also urged the Philippines to “faithfully follow the consensus” between the two countries, “maintain general peace and stability in the South China Sea” and “promote the sound and steady development of China-Philippine relations.”

Routine patrol

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Lorenzana’s visit to Pag-asa was just part of a “routine” patrol in the South China Sea, which the Philippines calls the West Philippine Sea.
“The Philippines has long been undertaking customary and routine maritime patrol and overflight in the West Philippine Sea which are lawful activities under international law. Such flights will likewise enable us to reach our municipality,” Abella said in a statement.
Abella said the visit was also in line with the government’s aim to improve the quality of life of Filipinos in the island.
“The visit of the Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to Pag-asa Island is part of the efforts to improve the safety, welfare, livelihood of Filipinos residing and living in the municipality of Kalayaan which is part of the province of Palawan,” the presidential spokesman said.
China has used a similar argument to justify reclamation activities in the South China Sea.

China challenges PAF planes

While on its way to Pag-asa, the military plane carrying Lorenzana and military officials were warned by Chinese forces to leave the area but the pilot insisted that they were in Philippine airspace.
Lorenzana has downplayed the incident, saying Philippine air assets conducting resupply operations usually receive warnings from Chinese forces.
During President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to China last October, Manila and Beijing agreed to hold dialogues on the South China Sea dispute, a move that Chinese officials claimed signaled the “full recovery” of the friendship between the two countries.
The Duterte administration’s decision to hold dialogues with China on the dispute is a departure from the policy of former President Benigno Aquino III, who preferred that the issue be tackled through multilateral channels.
In 2013, the Philippines challenged the legality of China’s expansive claim in the South China Sea before an international arbitral tribunal in Hague.
The court decided in favor of the Philippines last year, ruling that China’s maritime claim has no legal basis.
China has refused to recognize the ruling, dismissing it as a “mere piece of paper” that would not affect its territorial rights.
Duterte has said he is ready to set aside the arbitral ruling to enhance the Philippines’ ties with China. He stressed, though, that he would not bargain away the Philippines’ maritime claims and that there would be a time when he would bring up the arbitral ruling before the Chinese government.

 (The problem of Islamic rebels in the Philippines — Real or Not?)

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On July 12, 2016 a ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague said China’s nine-dash line claim (shown above) was invalid and not recognized in international law.

Despite all this:

What is China so passionate about in the Philippine Seas?

April 23, 2017

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Philippine soldier stands guard over the South China Sea.

By: Artemio V. Panganiban – @inquirerdotnet — Philippine Daily Inquirer / 12:20 AM April 23, 2017

Why is China so passionate in owning Scarborough Shoal and several maritime features in the Spratlys in the South China Sea (SCS)? And yet, so easily conceded the Philippines’ rights over Benham Rise?

No controversy. The short answer is that Benham Rise is outside the so-called nine-dash line under which China claims historic title and sovereignty over almost the entire SCS.

But unlike the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal, Benham Rise is totally submerged in water ranging from 50 to 5,000 meters in depth. This submarine status makes the exploitation of its vast resources extremely expensive and difficult to undertake.

On the other hand, the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal are located in much shallower waters; in fact, China has enlarged some of the isles and rocks therein, not only to extract mineral resources but also, more visibly, to construct airports, seaports, buildings and other structures.

Mendoza’s primer. Superlawyer Estelito P. Mendoza recently wrote a primer on this subject, published by the UP Law Center. As one of the two vice chairs of the Philippine delegation to the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, which convened during martial law in December 1973, he had an insider view of the negotiations.

(The other vice chair was then Foreign Undersecretary Jose Ingles. Alternating as chairs were then Sen. Arturo Tolentino and then Justice Secretary Vicente Abad Santos. All are now deceased.)

In 1982, the UN finally adopted the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) that came into force in 1994. Mendoza related that our delegation was able to include the “archipelagic principles” in the Unclos, and eventually the “ultimate compromise … to have a 12-mile territorial sea and an exclusive economic zone of 200 miles…”

On March 10, 2009, Republic Act No. 9522 was approved. It defined the baselines from which to measure our 1) 12-nautical-mile (NM) territorial sea, 2) 24-NM contiguous zone, 3) 200-NM exclusive economic zone, and 4) 350-NM continental shelf. (See my column on 4/2/17 for details.)

Thereafter, the Philippines notified the UN Secretary General (UNSG) of the baselines defined under RA 9522. It claimed the status of an “archipelagic state,” composed of the “Philippine archipelago” (Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao) plus two “regimes of islands,” the Kalayaan Island Group in the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal (or Bajo de Masinloc).

Soon after, China submitted to the UNSG a “Note” dated April 13, 2009, alleging that RA 9522 “illegally claims Huangyan Island (referred to as ‘Bajo de Masinloc’ in the Act) and some islands and reefs of Nansha Islands (referred to as ‘The Kalayaan Island Group’ in the Act) of China… The Chinese Government hereby reiterates that Huangyan Island and Nansha Islands have been part of the territory of China since ancient time.”

Notably, it did not contest our rights over the “Philippine archipelago” and implicitly its corresponding territorial sea, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf including Benham Rise.

No ruling on land. Mendoza opined, “Considering that … China had taken possession and occupied several of the islands (or features) within the Kalayaan Group of Islands and over Bajo de Masinloc,” the Philippines should have initiated a proceeding “in regard to these matters.”

As it is, however, our arbitral claim and the arbitral award itself did not settle the issue of Chinese occupation and sovereignty over these islands or features. In fact, the arbitral tribunal had no jurisdiction to award title or sovereignty over land territory. Consequently, China cannot be expected to surrender its occupation or sovereignty over them.

Mendoza recalled that in a conversation with then President Ferdinand Marcos, then Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping, during a state visit here in June 1975, advised that negotiation is the only solution. And if no agreement is reached, how should the matter be resolved? His answer was simply “to talk some more, and more until agreement is reached.”

Consistent with this “talk, talk, talk” approach is the Duterte administration’s pursuit of the proposed Code of Conduct between Asean and China, spoken about by Acting Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo in a recent Inquirer Forum. Is this a better strategy to resolve the impasse in the SCS? (To be continued.)

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 (The problem of Islamic rebels in the Philippines — Real or Not?)

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On July 12, 2016 a ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague said China’s nine-dash line claim (shown above) was invalid and not recognized in international law.

Despite all this:

Philippines President Deterte: Where Is He Taking His People in The South China Sea?

April 12, 2017

“Duterte’s embarrassing to and fro on South China Sea”

Confusing pronouncements on the South China Sea and mounting international condemnation of the bloody crackdown on illegal drugs could lead the Philippines into a foreign policy crisis. Ana P. Santos reports from Manila.

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Last week, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte alarmed regional neighbors when he ordered troops to occupy all South China Sea reefs.
“It looks like everybody is making a grab for the islands there, so we better live on those that are still vacant. At least, let us get what is ours now and make a strong point that it is ours,” Duterte said.
The president further said he may go to the islands himself and plant a Philippine flag there in June, in time for the Philippine Independence Day on June 12.
The statement was interpreted as the Philippines asserting its claim on the disputed South China Sea, a resource-rich area and major maritime highway where an estimated $5 trillion worth of goods pass through every year. It was also an about-face to Duterte’s earlier moves to forge warmer relations with China through bilateral trade and cooperation.
Damage control
The Department of Defense (DND) later clarified the president’s statement.
“The Philippines is currently occupying nine reefs and atolls in the region. There are no plans to construct new structures. We will only upgrade the facilities for our personnel there,” DND public affairs chief, Arsenio Andolong, told DW.
Inselstreit im Südchinesischen Meer (picture-alliance/dpa/R.B. Tongo)
Duterte’s statement was interpreted as the Philippines asserting its claim on the disputed South China Sea
This kind of U-turn and follow up explanations to clarify the president’s pronouncements is not unusual for the Duterte administration. In March, the Philippines requested that China explain the presence of its ships in Benham Rise. Beijing responded by saying the Philippines could not claim the area as its own. The United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (UNCLCS) awarded Benham Rise to the Philippines in 2012.
Later, at a press conference, Duterte confused Benham Rise with the South China Sea, which is located on the opposite side of the archipelago.
“I think the president needs a primer on the South China Sea,” Jay Batongbacal, director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea at the Philippines College of Law, told DW. “All places in the area that could be occupied are already occupied by the Philippines, Vietnam and China,” the expert said.
Under this scenario, an order by Duterte to occupy the reefs could be taken as intent to build new artificial reefs in the area or spark conflict by occupying the reefs and atolls claimed by other countries.
Either way, such pronouncements are befuddling.
“It happens when the chief architect of the country’s foreign policy is not fully informed about the region,” Batongbacal said.

FILE — In this Dec. 24, 2015, photo, provided by Filipino fisherman Renato Etac, a Chinese Coast Guard boat approaches Filipino fishermen near Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Scarborough Shoal has always been part of the Philippines, by international law. Renato Etac

‘The Philippines is currently occupying nine reefs and atolls in the region,’ said DND public affairs chief Arsenio Andolong
Increasing isolation
“China’s strategic ambition is to become a dominant power in the region. Its movements in the region are not economic, they are geopolitical,” Jose Antonio Custodio, a maritime historian and international security expert, told DW.
The flip-flopping on the South China Sea coupled with Duterte’s dismissal of calls from the international community to end his brutal crackdown on illegal drugs could further isolate the Philippines from its traditional allies like the United States and Europe.
The European Parliament was the latest international body to call for an international investigation into “unlawful killings and other violations” linked to President Duterte’s controversial war on drugs.
“The US and the EU continue to criticize our human rights violations which could have economic implications. This is the most serious foreign policy crisis that we have experienced in the last 30 years,” Custodio told DW.
Losing traditional trade partners like the US and other allies could lead to the Philippines increasing its economic dependence on China.
“That would further invalidate our claim to the West Philippine Sea and Benham Rise. It neutralizes the Philippines and allows China to project further into the region,” Custodio added.
But Charles Jose, a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs, told DW “there is no inconsistency in our policy on the South China Sea.”
On Monday, Duterte clarified his own statements and said, “China can relax. We will not go to war with you.”
Duterte is scheduled to visit China in May to continue talks that he started during his state visit to Beijing in October last year.
 (The problem of Islamic rebels in the Philippines — Real or Not?)

No automatic alt text available.

On July 12, 2016 a ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague said China’s nine-dash line claim (shown above) was invalid and not recognized in international law.



A man suspected of dealing drugs shot dead after a “buy and bust” operation in Quezon City, the Philippines, in September 2016. Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

South China Sea dispute: Can Rodrigo Duterte be taken seriously?

April 8, 2017

By Lindsay Murdoch

Sydney Morning Herald

Bangkok: At first glance Rodrigo Duterte’s order to deploy Philippine troops to 10 small islands and reefs in the flashpoint waters of the South China Sea is a serious escalation of a dispute that could engulf the world’s major powers.

But like so many comments made by the 72-year-old firebrand President since he took office last June, it is unclear whether he is joking, stirring patriotic sentiments at home or is serious.

Taken at his word, sending the troops to build permanent structures like barracks and water desalination plants on the islands is a surprising reversal of his policy not to antagonise China. China in October pledged to invest $24 billion in the Philippines where poverty is widespread.

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President Rodrigo Duterte shakes hands with Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua. Photo by EPA

“It looks like everybody else is making a grab for the islands there, so we better live on those that are vacant,” the President told reporters during a visit to a military camp on the western island of Palawan on Thursday.


Philippine President orders troops to live on islands in South China Sea

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“I have ordered the armed forces to occupy all… At least, let us get what is ours now and make a strong point there that it is ours,” he said.

The remarks are sure to provoke an angry response from China, which claims almost all the strategically important parts of the South China Sea where US$5.3 trillion in trade passes each year.

It is unclear how Mr Duterte’s order could be executed. Some of the islands would need expensive and logistically difficult reclamation work before structures could be built on them. China could block supplies to the islands by stationing its Coast Guard vessels in waters near islands it occupies.

Analysts trying to interpret Mr Duterte’s often expletive-ridden and inflammatory comments on many issues wonder whether he is making a policy statement or another of his high-stakes quips.

When he was campaigning for president he said he would ride a jet-ski to an island in the South China Sea and raise the Philippine flag.

He later mocked the media for taking his claim seriously.

On Thursday Mr Duterte told his troops that he may visit one of the islands on the Philippine Independence Day in June to raise the flag.

Asked about his plans for a rusty ship that serves as outpost in the South China Sea for a handful of Philippine marines, he said “I will replace it with a luxury liner. There will be waiters, food, swimming pool so the soldiers there can get fat.”

The man who likes to be called “The Punisher” also told the troops never to surrender to the enemy.

“On the last bullet, put the pistol to your head and tell the enemy ‘f— you.’ At least you will die with your dignity,” he said.

Carlyle Thayer, an expert on the South China Sea at the University of New South Wales’ Australian Defence Force Academy, said it was quite clear that China’s continued consolidation of control over and militarisation of islands in the disputed waters has unnerved Filipino defence officials and now the President.

China has recently fortified its three main islands with airfields, hangers for military jets and installed missile weapons systems and anti-aircraft guns.

Professor Thayer said the Philippines was spooked by reports, later denied by Beijing, that China was moving to install environmental monitoring equipment on to Scarborough Shoal seaized by China in 2012. The shoal sits only 12 nautical miles from the Philippine coast.

Manila also raised concerns when a Chinese oceanographic ship plied waters in the Benham Rise off Philippines’ east coast.

Richard Javad Heydarian, an assistant professor of political science at Manila’s De La Salle University, said Mr Duterte’s comments were meant to calm nerves within the Philippine defence establishment.

“He definitely felt the heat, so is now scrambling to build his patriotic credentials,” he said.

Professor Thayer pointed out the Philippines will violate a 2002 declaration among claimant nations in the South China Sea to exercise self-restraint if it does occupy the islands.

“Even more serious, China is likely to respond. Chinese officials have been quoted as saying ‘if you do one, we will do one and a half. If you do two, we will do two and a half,” he said.

Philippine City Bordering Disputed Sea Finding Fewer Fish, More Foreign Vessels

April 5, 2017

Voice of America

April 04, 2017 6:26 AM
By Ralph Jennings
FILE - In this May 7, 2013 photo, a fishing boat returns to their village in the coastal town of Masinloc, Zambales province, northwestern Philippines.

FILE – In this May 7, 2013 photo, a fishing boat returns to their village in the coastal town of Masinloc, Zambales province, northwestern Philippines.

Philippine fishermen along the front lines of a bitterly contested tract of the South China Sea say fishing stocks are declining partly because of unstoppable intrusions from Chinese, Taiwanese and Vietnamese competitors.
The number of fish has fallen about 50 percent since 2010 off the coast of Masinloc, the Philippine city closest to Scarborough Shoal, contested by Manila and Beijing since 2012, according to Franklin Cattigay, the local Philippine Coast Guard commander.Map showing location of Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea

Map showing location of Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea

The problems in an already poor archipelago dependent largely on the sea may add pressure on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to cement a new friendship with China, following Beijing’s pledge of $24 billion in aid and investment in October, or to invite the U.S. navy back to continue joint coastal patrols against foreign vessels.

China effectively controls access to the 150-square-kilometer shoal, a prime fishing ground 198 kilometers away from Masinloc.

Boats from China, Taiwan and Vietnam use “illegal” techniques such as explosives and bright nighttime lights to draw fish said Cattigay .

“Vessels from China are roaming there and they are not authorizing the Philippines to go there,” he said as he gestured into the South China Sea just west of his outdoor workspace next to the major Masinloc fish market. “Chinese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, they are all there.

“Nowadays fish is not [like] before, it’s fairly limited because of so many people using illegal fishing, most especially the other countries using super lights,” he said.

Declining stocks plus pressure from China have prompted many of city’s roughly 3,000 registered fishermen to fan out along the Philippine coast or try to make it on catches of smaller fish. Nationwide, millions of people live off the sea.

Just three 40-person Philippine vessels from Masinloc, a city of 49,000 people, regularly trawl around Scarborough Shoal, said a city government fisheries staff person who did not want to be identified. The city doesn’t tell them to stay away from Scarborough Shoal but a lot avoid it anyway because of the risks, he said.

China has two patrol boats at the shoal and bars Filipinos from entry, fishermen say. China began occupying Scarborough Shoal, a rocky outcropping visible above the waves, in 2012 after a tense standoff with the Philippines that soured relations until Duterte took office in June.

China claims more than 90 percent of the wider South China Sea. Some of that claim clashes with a Philippine exclusive economic zone from Masinloc’s Luzon Island south to Palawan.

Taiwan also calls the whole 3.5 million-square-kilometer resource-rich sea its own. Vietnam has a smaller claim, but like China has landfilled some of the sea’s islets near fisheries and undersea fossil fuel exploration sites.

South China Sea Territorial Claims

South China Sea Territorial Claims

Vietnamese fishing boats have been seen near the Philippine coast about 48 km offshore, the city staff person said.

“Two hours into the sea are Vietnamese, five boats finding octopus and fish, two hours, there,” said Roy Sevilla, 34, a Masinloc fisherman of 20 years as he pointed northwest from his boat moorage under a dilapidated pier.

Other people along the clear waters and mangrove tree-lined coasts of Masinloc work in groups to gut, dry and sell fish just a few inches long rather than prizes such as tuna or lapu lapu. On Tuesday, vendors at the public market were selling mainly small squid and eels.

Fishing closer to the coast of the city northwest of Manila fetches just three tons of fish per trip, down from the 10 to 15 tons he would expect from Scarborough Shoal, veteran fisherman Butch Ortega said.

“We have the Chinese patrol, so we cannot go,” said Ortega as he stood knee deep in the water tending to a boat.

Duterte’s engagement with China, he believes, has not covered access to Scarborough.

Last month the president said his country had no way of fighting China if it went ahead with plans reported by Chinese media to build a monitoring station on the shoal. He also has not moved on a proposal announced last year to declare the shoal a marine sanctuary.

From May through August, Beijing is scheduled to declare a fishing moratorium over much of the sea. Masinloc locals say they’re unlikely to observe it and that China does not now turn their boats away from disputed tracts outside the shoal.

But Chinese naval, coast guard and fishing vessels may overwhelm the sea in ways that Southeast Asian claimants cannot “hope to match,” said Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of American think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies.

FILE - Chinese Coast Guard members approach Filipino fishermen as they confront each other off Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, also called the West Philippine Sea, Sept. 23, 2015.

FILE – Chinese Coast Guard members approach Filipino fishermen as they confront each other off Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, also called the West Philippine Sea, Sept. 23, 2015.

The Philippines, the island of Borneo and the Natuna Islands of Indonesia would feel Chinese enforcement of the moratorium, Poling said. Malaysia and Brunei compete with China for rights to tracts of the sea north of Borneo.

“They’ll be swamping waters off the coast of Borneo and off the Natunas and then they’ll also presumably be pushing the Philippines out of places like the Scarborough Shoal,” he said. “What the Chinese want here is for the Southeast Asians to just stop resisting, just accept the new world order in Asia centered around China and China’s historic rights.”

An association of fishing boats from Zambales province, including Masinloc, have drafted a resolution to Duterte, the coast guard commander said. They want the president to let U.S. naval vessels resume helping the Philippines, which is militarily weaker than China, patrol the coastlines.

The coast guard alone lacks resources to patrol for foreign boats, he said, advocating more help from Washington. Filipino fisherman also use illegal techniques to catch fish, he added.

A stronger friendship with China may generate more aid and investment for the Philippines, analysts in Manila say, but may ultimately anger Filipinos who want their leader to safeguard national territory.


 (Philippine Star)

 — From March 25, 2017 with links to other related articles


 (National Geographic on the South China Sea)


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China’s Tian Jing Hao – Cutter suction dredger — Used to destroy South China Sea coral reefs to provide dredge material for new man made- islands — an environmental disaster

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The End of an era?  Fishermen work to unload a net full of anchovies during a fishing expedition in the Pacific Ocean. Photo AP

China, Asean make progress on sea code

April 4, 2017

Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said Tuesday that China and southeast Asian nations had made progress in talks on a code of conduct for the disputed South China Sea although the issue on whether it would be legally binding was still pending. AP/Aaron Favila

MANILA, Philippines – China and Southeast Asian countries have made progress in talks on a code of conduct for the disputed South China Sea, although the issue on whether it is legally binding still remains pending, acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said yesterday.

Almost the entire waterway, through which about $5 trillion in sea-borne goods pass every year, is claimed by China while Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims on some portions.

“We have made good progress on coming up with a framework for a code of conduct with China,” Manalo said, adding that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China were more than halfway through identifying the contents.

“From a scale of 1-10, we are at the upper level. Remember, we were starting from zero in January. There have been a number of elements agreed upon and we would definitely have a framework on which to embark on a serious negotiation on a code of conduct,” he said.

Negotiators from China and ASEAN have met in Indonesia and Cambodia in the last two months to try to come up with a final draft, which could be approved ahead of the August meeting of Southeast Asian foreign ministers in Manila.

Manalo said the code should be legally binding.

“I think China still believes, is still in the position that it shouldn’t be legally binding. Frankly, from a negotiating point of view, I think it’s a little bit early to say,” Manalo added.

As the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) works to complete the framework by June, talks with Beijing are set next month to tackle “issues of concern regarding the South China Sea,” including China’s militarization of several manmade islands in the Spratly Islands – which the Philippines, US and Vietnam have objected to.

The bilateral mechanism is one of two dialogues held by China with claimant states. The other is with Vietnam.

US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to discuss Chinese ambitions in the South China Sea when they meet tomorrow and Friday at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

Research in Benham Rise

The Philippines approved the requests of the US and other countries to conduct marine scientific research in the Benham Rise area after compliance with requirements that include having a Filipino scientist on board, Manalo said yesterday during a forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) at the Manila Diamond Hotel.

But he added that the requests from China for the same research were denied.

“Those are, of course, confidential but let’s just (say) they didn’t comply with all the requirements,” he said when asked the reason for the denial.

He declined to give the number of countries with approved research requests, saying, “I can’t answer the exact numbers but as long as the country complies with the requirements of the Philippines they will be allowed to conduct research in the area in question.”

Aside from the Filipino scientist requirement, he said researchers are also obligated to share the information they gathered.

“As long as they’re willing to do that, then we don’t see any reason why they can’t explore,” Manalo added.

Applications for research are usually declined after the concerned government agencies recommend it, citing the “non-involvement of Filipino scientists in the conduct of marine scientific research.”

The DFA Maritime and Ocean Affairs Office processes the applications “strictly for marine scientific research purposes and not for economic exploration.”

The Philippines had sent a note verbale to China, asking for explanation about Chinese vessels spotted in Benham Rise, after the Department of National Defense said that one vessel lingered there for three months from September to November.

“China reaffirmed that they recognize the sovereign rights of the Philippines over Benham Rise. That was clearly stated and was also mentioned that they have no dispute with the Philippines on that area,” Manalo said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said China fully respects the right of the Philippines to the continental shelf of Benham Rise and Beijing never challenged the relevant rights of Manila.

China also said the ship was carrying out “innocent” passage.

Philippines To Reassert At-Sea Sovereignty: Discussing Renaming ‘Benham Rise’ to ‘Philippine Rise’

April 1, 2017
Soft coral recorded during the 2016 expedition to Benham Rise. Oceana Philippines

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines has proposed a point of action in Benham Rise by changing its name to “Philippine Rise” to assert ownership of the area.

In a statement issued on Saturday, ​Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said that the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the Executive Secretary were tasked to look into the proposal.

“The DFA and Office of the Executive Secretary have been tasked to look into the possibility of changing the name of ‘Benham Rise’ to ‘Philippine Rise’ to emphasize Philippine sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the area,” the statement read.

To effect the change, Abella said that “a motion has made subject to the conduct of the requisite legal and logistical study.”

Situated about 250 kilometers east of Dinapigue, Isabela, the region also known as Benham Plateau has untapped natural resources and is said to be bigger than the Philippines’ biggest island, Luzon.

The Philippines gained the 13 million-hectare Benham Rise as a “new territory” through the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea’s consent, confirming that it is part of the country’s continental shelf and territory.

The underwater region is named after Admiral Andrew Ellicot Kennedy Benham, a US navy officer, by American surveyors who discovered Benham Rise.

Earlier, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had expressed concern over the reported presence of Chinese survey vessels in Benham Rise.

Lorenzana proposed increasing patrols and even building structures in the area to demonstrate Philippine sovereignty.

Beijing however said that the Philippines cannot claim Benham Rise as its own territory despite it being part of the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry defended the move, claiming that their vessels were only exercising freedom of navigation and the right to innocent passage.

President Rodrigo Duterte said the Chinese government had informed him beforehand of its plan and that he allowed them to pass through Benham Rise.

On Thursday, Acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo denied that the president allowed China to send survey ships to Benham Rise.

The top diplomat said that Duterte‘s statement on Benham Rise was taken out of context, saying that the Chinese are merely welcome to conduct a friendly visit to the Philippines.



South China Sea: Philippines and China Prepare For Direct Bilateral Talks

March 29, 2017

China has invited officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for a visit to start discussions on a bilateral consultation mechanism on the South China Sea, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense via AP

MANILA, Philippines –  The Philippines and China will hold direct talks on their maritime dispute in May, Filipino officials said yesterday, as President Duterte seeks stronger economic ties with Beijing.

China has invited officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for a visit to start discussions on a bilateral consultation mechanism on the South China Sea, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

The DFA yesterday confirmed China is proposing to hold and host the bilateral consultation meeting with the Philippines in May.

“This is a new proposal, a bilateral consultation mechanism specifically on the South China Sea,” foreign affairs spokesman Charles Jose said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said the Philippines and China agreed during the 20th round of Sino-Philippine diplomatic consultation last January to establish a bilateral mechanism on the South China Sea issue.

The two foreign ministries will act as coordinators to discuss issues of mutual concern and promote maritime cooperation and security.

“The Chinese side has invited competent officials of the Philippine foreign ministry to visit China in May for the first meeting of this mechanism,” Hua said in a press conference in Beijing.

“The two sides are having friendly consultations on the specifics of relevant matters,” she said.

Hua said Beijing is willing to further strengthen communication and dialogue with Manila to properly manage differences, enhance maritime cooperation and create a favorable atmosphere for practical cooperation between the two sides and the healthy and steady growth of Sino-Philippine relations.

Last year, a United Nations-backed international tribunal rejected Beijing’s claims to most of the South China Sea, including disputed areas close to the coasts of its neighbors.

But Duterte, elected last year, has played down that ruling and pushed for rapprochement with China as he seeks billions of dollars in trade and investment from it.

DFA’s Jose said both sides are looking at May for the first meeting.

“There was the agreement of bilateral consultation mechanism on the South China Sea and China offered to host the initial meeting. This May, both sides will discuss the specific dates and the agenda,” Jose said.

He noted the purpose of the bilateral consultation mechanism is to provide a platform to discuss South China Sea issues.

“We have no agreement yet on the substantive agenda as well as the level of the meeting. All of these are yet to be discussed,” he said.

The Philippines sent last week a note verbale to China to seek clarification on its plans to build the first permanent structure on Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.

The top official in Sansha City that administers China’s island claims since 2012 was quoted by the official Hainan Daily as saying that preparations were underway to build an environmental monitoring station at Panatag Shoal.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said the Philippines was preparing to formally protest China’s plan to install a radar station at Panatag in violation of the UN tribunal ruling declaring the shoal a common fishing ground outside any country’s jurisdiction.

He said the course of action was in accordance with Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio’s suggestion that a strong formal protest against Beijing be filed with the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague.

In September, China insisted the situation in Panatag Shoal had not changed and maintained the presence of a number of coast guard vessels was for law enforcement patrols.

Beijing denied there was dredging or building activities conducted in the atoll.

The Philippine government released surveillance pictures of Chinese coast guard ships and barges at a disputed shoal in the South China Sea.

Under threat

Security officials also pointed out two of the nine islands occupied by the Philippines in the Spratlys archipelago are now under direct threat from China’s ongoing militarization of their occupied areas in the region.

These two military outposts are in Pag-Asa Island and the Ayungin Shoal outpost, where Filipino soldiers are currently stationed aboard a grounded ship BRP Sierra Madre.

“These two areas are very close to the now Chinese highly militarized artificial islands out of Zamora (Subi) Reef and Panganiban (Mischief) Reef,” a senior security official said.

The official said the highly militarized Zamora and Panganiban Reefs could choke Pag-Asa and Ayungin Shoal.

Zamora Reef is located 14 nautical miles from Pag-Asa Island, Palawan’s fifth class municipality, which is also home to a contingent of Filipino soldiers.

Ayungin Shoal, on the other hand, is located 22 nautical miles from the Chinese-built artificial island in Panganiban Reef.

The Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said

China has already put up three radar/senior arrays, two hangars, a mobile missile shelter and four point defenses in their occupied areas.

The CSIS’s Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) reported China has completed early this month the construction of hangars that can accommodate 24 combat aircraft. The artificial island has a 3,000-meter runway and safe harbor.

“Construction teams were putting the finishing touches on five larger hangars. A finished radar tower stands in the middle of the reef and a trio of large towers have been constructed on the southwestern corner,” the AMTI said.

AMTI also reported recent monitoring on the placement of a radar dome on the ground next to one of the towers, indicating this construction is similar to what China has built at Kagitingan (Johnson South) Reef.

Retractable roofs are also being installed on the recently built missile shelters at Panganiban Reef, AMTI reported.

Meanwhile, the Department of National Defense (DND) is working out a deal with Japan for the transfer of spare parts needed by the Philippine Air Force to keep its fleet of UH-1H combat and utility helicopters up in the air.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said talks are now underway with Japan’s Minister of Defense Acquisitions, Technology and Logistics Agency (ATLA) regarding the Huey spare parts transfer to PAF.

Japan used to be a big user of UH-1H helicopters and has huge spare parts inventory for the Vietnam-vintage rotary aircraft.

Lorenzana made this disclosure following last Monday’s transfer of two of the five TC-90 surveillance aircraft that the Japanese government has leased to the Philippine government to bolster the Navy’s air maritime and sovereignty monitoring capabilities.

A TC-90 King Air of the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF). Photo courtesy of the JMSDF website.

A TC-90 King Air of the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF). Photo courtesy of the JMSDF website.

The Navy will be using the two aircraft provided by Japan to patrol the country’s maritime domain in the South China Sea and Benham Rise in the eastern seaboard facing the Pacific Ocean.  – With   Jaime Laude



 (Contains links to several previous articles on the South China Sea)

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On July 12, 2016 a ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague said China’s nine-dash line claim (shown above) was invalid and not recognized in international law.