Posts Tagged ‘Panatag’

Satellite images show damage to South China Sea shoals — Some blaming Chinese clam diggers

June 17, 2018
Satellite images posted by Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, compare the situation of Panatag Shoal in 2009, 2014 and 2016. From left: the undisturbed coral reef segment in 2009; the visible reef damage allegedly caused by Chinese boats which use propellers to harvest giant clams in 2014, two years after Beijing took control of the area; and even more damage with deep scars outlined by the shadows (highlighted) in 2016, when 300 square meters of formerly pristine reef were turned into rubble.
Evelyn MacairanJanvic Mateo (The Philippine Star) – June 17, 2018 – 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Publicly-available satellite images show the considerable damage supposedly made by Chinese clam diggers in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal since 2012, an international maritime law expert posted on social media yesterday.

Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, shared satellite images taken from Google Earth that showed changes in the shoal since the Chinese took control of the resource-rich area six years ago.

“Using Google Earth, one can measure about 552 hectares of the back (inner) reef of Scarborough Shoal visibly destroyed by clam diggers since 2012,” he said in a post on his social media accounts.

“That’s visible damage, by the way. Only ground-truthing can provide a truly accurate assessment,” he added.

In an earlier post, Batongbacal posted three satellite images of the shoal which showed what he said are scars left by Chinese fishermen that used propellers to cut the reef in order to dislodge giant clams.

“The third, taken a few months after the arbitral award handed down in 2016, shows even more scars and indicating complete destruction of the area shown (approximately 2.5-kilometer distance from end to end),” he wrote.

“All this destruction took place with the China Coast Guard keeping watch over the shoal. In 2016, the CSIS AMTI (Center for Strategic and International Studies-Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative) estimated roughly half of the total reef area of Scarborough to have been destroyed,” he added.

Batongbacal noted that Chinese boats continued to carry out this activity until 2017 as seen by photos taken by the media during maritime air patrols.

He said the recent complaints of Filipino fishermen against Chinese Coast Guard taking their fish indicate activities that continuously damage the shoal.

Duterte told: Protect fishermen, not yourself

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate urged President Duterte yesterday to send the Philippine Coast Guard to Panatag Shoal to protect fishermen from alleged harassment by the Chinese.

Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission on the Laity (ECL) chairman Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said Duterte’s lackluster protest contributed to Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea, while Sen. Richard Gordon stressed the government cannot afford to remain docile in dealing with China if it wants to be taken seriously in its claims over its territories.

In his blog “Panaghoy,” Pabillo said Duterte is responsible for China’s encroachment into Philippine territory, bullying of Filipino fishermen and destruction of marine resources.

Pabillo pointed out that during Duterte’s term, China was able to bring in more military hardware to the disputed West Philippine Sea, which is also being claimed by other countries including the Philippines.

The Manila bishop said Duterte takes the matter lightly, even claiming that China promised to protect him from foreign detractors who might attempt to oust him from the presidency.

“Duterte and his administration have not made any fuss on China’s moves and aggressiveness. He just jokes about them and even makes innuendoes that China will protect him and not allow him to fall. If this is the message he sends out, China on its part will not hesitate to do what it wants,” Pabillo said.

“So again we can say that Duterte has a great influence in the Chinese aggression even if he does not have any direct hand in it,” Pabillo noted.

Pabillo said there is not even any strongly-worded protest against “our big neighbor” even if Filipino fishermen are already being harassed in their own territories.

“The Chinese have even the gall to claim that it is by their own goodwill that Filipinos fish in their (that is, our) seas,” Pabillo said.

Pabillo also pointed out that China is not a defender of human rights or the rule of law, does not accept international law if it is not to its advantage and uses its might to bully a poor neighbor, like what it is doing in the West Philippine Sea.

“China can easily bully us too if we allow it to gain any foothold in our territories and in our policies. Duterte too is playing the same game. He has no moral compass to guide him,” Pabillo said.

Even if Duterte has often said that he loves the Philippines, the bishop doubted his sincerity.

Pabillo said the Chief Executive has “no love of country… He uses situations just to his own advantage. He does not care about the Filipinos or about the future of the country.”

Zarate, for his part, said the President should send the PCG to accompany or escort the hapless fisherfolk at Panatag Shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc, or in other Philippine-claimed areas in the West Philippine Sea.

“We have to show China that we are serious in defending our people as well as our territory. Our officials should always assert our independence, instead of them acting as apologists for China, which apparently now treats the Philippines as her vassal state,” Zarate said.

China took control of Panatag Shoal in 2012 after a standoff between Chinese and Philippine vessels. Beijing refused to honor an agreement mediated by the United States to end the standoff and made it appear that the Philippines backed down, the previous administration said.

Under the 2016 United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling that invalidated China’s territorial claim over the whole of the South China Sea, including a large part of the country’s exclusive economic zone, Panatag Shoal was declared a traditional fishing ground of Filipinos, Chinese and Vietnamese.

“China is apparently treating the Duterte administration as a pushover by doing what they want in Bajo de Masinloc and the rest of the (West Philippine Sea) without nary a whimper from Malacañang,” Zarate said.

“We are not saying that we declare war on China. But what we need is for Malacañang to stand up for our fisherfolk and our territory. We have already suggested in the past the filing of a diplomatic protest and increasing patrols of our seas, among others. One thing is clear though, the government must do something now to stop this invasion of China,” Zarate said.

Zarate also cautioned the US against exacerbating tension in the disputed sea.

“The situation in the West Philippine Sea is already getting serious. The US and China should stop their sabre rattling so as to lessen tension. The Philippines and other small claimants are in a situation akin to having two bullies in their backyard raring for a fight and thrashing each other without regard for the backyard or the houses nearby,” he said.

He urged claimant-states like the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia to work together to ease tension in the West Philippine Sea.

Fishermen from Zambales and Pangasinan have reported that Chinese Coast Guard personnel have been taking part of their catch in Panatag Shoal area and that Chinese fishermen have destroyed coral reefs there.

Seek foreign help 

Gordon said the government must be more aggressive in dealing with China, which has been claiming areas in the disputed South China Sea and clearly establishing a military presence there.

In an interview over dwIZ, Gordon said the Philippines’ claims over the West Philippine Sea would not be taken seriously by China since it has no military might to speak of at all.

He recalled how China refrained from acting so aggressively when the US still had its military bases in the Philippines.

With the American bases long gone, Gordon said there is nothing standing in the way of China doing what it wants in the disputed waters.

Gordon urged the government to reach out to its allies such as the US, Japan, New Zealand, Korea and Australia for support.

He said the Philippines must make its presence felt in the West Philippine Sea by building its own structures there, whether these are airfields, buildings or any structure to show signs of occupation.

Gordon said diplomatic protests against China should also be filed if this has not yet been done in order to show that the country would not allow itself to be bullied.

Even if these actions could result in some form of retaliation from China, Gordon said the country should be ready to accept this because pushing back is the right thing to do.

Gordon said it is time the government takes the strengthening of the armed forces seriously because this has been neglected by all of the previous administrations.

He recalled how he pushed for the allocation of 13 percent of the collections from the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law for building up the military, but this was not carried.

“You cannot have any bargaining chip if you don’t have a strong armed forces,” Gordon said.

Gordon said he has met with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to find out what the military needs in the 2019 national budget.  – With Jess Diaz, Marvin Sy



South China Sea: Philippine President Discovers The Philippines No Longer Owns The Sea — Says He Will Ask China’s Xi Jinping For Clarification — Will China Change “The Entire Geography of the World?” — ASEAN is “Adrift” Former Philippine FM Says

November 8, 2017
Members of a Philippine survey team ride a motorized raft around Pag-asa island, with a sandbar seen in the background in this photo taken in April 2017. AFP

After Chinese protest, Rody stops Pag-asa construction

MANILA, Philippines — Ahead of possible talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Vietnam, President Duterte said yesterday he wants to know straight from Beijing if it intends to control the South China Sea.

“I do not take it against China. But what are the stakes? Do you want control of the passage?” Duterte said at his pre-departure briefing at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) before leaving for Da Nang in Vietnam to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

He is expected to meet Xi for bilateral talks on the sidelines of the APEC summit.

On Tuesday, the President promised to be “frank” with China in discussing the dispute over the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion of world trade passes.

Duterte said China should be clear about its plans as these could have an impact on the Philippines and on the region in general.

“We are friends with China. May utang na loob tayo (We have a debt of gratitude). At one moment in our life or the lives of the Filipinos, they were there to give us the arms when we had none and we were fighting it out in Marawi,” the President told a press briefing at the NAIA Terminal 2.

“But let us be clear on what we intend to do here because eventually it will affect the entire Philippine archipelago,” he added.

Duterte stressed assistance or pledges of aid should not be used as “bargaining chips” on matters related to the greater interest of the Philippines and the rest of Southeast Asia.

“It’s about time that ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries, not really to confront, but to make clear to us what China really wants,” the President said.

Duterte said he wants those questions answered “for the sake of my country and the others who have overlapping claims.”

But the President made it clear it might not be wise to confront China over the maritime row.

“The truth is, if I could only confront China or if it is China alone – that’s the problem. But I said, there are contesting countries which have overlapping jurisdictions,” the President said.

“And if I engage China now, I will have to engage the five others. It would be something like a scramble there because if China concedes to one, Philippines, it has to concede to the others,” he pointed out.

“And what will now happen to our general claim of being the economic zone belonging to my country? That’s a problem,” he added.

Duterte, nevertheless, expressed belief the topic should be raised in bilateral meetings or at a regional forum.

“I should be bringing this important matter to the surface,” the President said.

China claims virtually the entire South China Sea while the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims.

A misstep, he stressed, could be disastrous to the region. “I know where (it’s) going, the direction and it’s a game of geopolitics. I said, it would change the entire landscape of Southeast Asia if something goes wrong,” he said.

Duterte had said he would not declare war over the territorial issue as it would result in a “massacre” of Filipino troops.

He said he is counting on the promise of China that it would not build structures in the Philippine-occupied  Pag-asa Island and Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.

“I just hope that he (Chinese President Xi) would honor it because it will change the entire geography of the world. And war starts. I don’t know what will be the next geographical division of Asia,” the President said on Tuesday.

‘Don’t disturb equilibrium’

Duterte said Chinese officials can always visit Pag-asa island in Palawan as long as they do not “disturb the equilibrium” there.

“I said, ‘You can go there for a visit.’ As a matter of fact, you can shake hands with the commander there,” the Presi- dent said.

“I will tell my military men to treat you to a lunch .. But do not do anything that will disturb the equilibrium now present there,” he added.

China recently unveiled what it described as a “magic island-maker” vessel, triggering speculations that it would be used to reclaim Panatag Shoal.

A China Daily report said the 140-meter long vessel Taikun can dredge as much as 6,000 cubic meters of sand or clay per hour from 35 meters below the water’s surface.

Construction stopped

Apparently in keeping with his stand not to intimidate China, President Duterte had ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to stop its construction of a fishermen’s shelter on Sandy Cay near Pag-asa island in the disputed Spratlys archipelago, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana bared yesterday.

The instruction was issued in August, he said.

Located just 2.5 nautical miles off Pag-asa, Sandy Cay is within the island’s maritime domain but is some 10 nautical miles from Beijing’s man-made island over Zamora (Subi) Reef.

“I agree with the decision because it’s a new feature,” Lorenzana said, adding the President’s instruction was based on explanations made by Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano on the issue, following China’s filing of a diplomatic protest.

Lorenzana made the disclosure in an interview on the sidelines of a conference on security dubbed “Protecting the ASEAN community from Evolving Political-Security Challenges” at the Makati Shangri-La hotel.

The decision to stop construction of the fisherman’s shelter, the defense chief said, was in accordance with the agreement among all claimants that they maintain the status quo and refrain from occupying new features in the disputed waters.

Pag-asa residents and even troops usually visit Sandy Cay to have a picnic, do some fishing or adventure diving.

During his visit to the Western Command (Wescom) in Palawan in April, Duterte ordered the troops to occupy and even fortify uninhabited islets or islands in the West Philippine Sea.

“It looks like everybody is making a grab for the islands there, so we better live on those that are still vacant,” the President told the Wescom troops.

He was also quoted as telling the troops: “At least let us get what is ours and make a strong point there that is ours.”

“We brought people there to occupy, to put structure for our fishermen,” Lorenzana said.

Apparently after discovering the building activities, China lodged a diplomatic protest, citing the Declaration of Conduct (DOC) among the claimant states.

Cayetano, the defense chief said, saw the protest as valid.

“Wala na tayong tao doon (We don’t have people there),” Lorenzana said, referring to Sandy Cay, around which Chinese ships now regularly operate.

The Philippines has troops deployed in seven islets and two reefs in the disputed archipelago, while Vietnam has more than 23 outposts, and Beijing, seven. Malaysia has three and Taiwan has one. Only Brunei, another claimant, has no military presence in the area.

ASEAN ‘adrift’

Meanwhile, former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario said ASEAN is “adrift” due to lack of unity and leadership and is at risk of becoming a bystander oblivious to developments in the region.

“The bright promise of Southeast Asia’s future contrasts against the fog of the present,” Del Rosario said at a forum in Makati City.

“In the midst of many changes in our environment, many of our states have found themselves being pulled in different directions. This has been worsened by a lack of leadership from among us. In broader context, one can say that ASEAN is adrift,” Del Rosario said.

He said the bloc’s “over-abundance of caution” might make it irrelevant. ASEAN, he said, is striving to be a rules-based community, to strengthen its centrality and to more actively contribute to the stability of the Asia-Pacific. “As an institution, it provides a platform for us to present and reconcile our interests and manage our differences.

“If ASEAN pursues an over-abundance of caution, it risks becoming only a bystander to the events within its own region,” he stressed.

He said recent developments are of grave concern and need a firm and principled response from ASEAN and the rest of the international community. He cited the Korean issue apart from South China Sea tensions.

“The resolution of these matters will require the full strength of our cooperative abilities, not our coercive ones,” he pointed out.

Del Rosario also said the US banner of promoting the rule of international law and the “Asia Pivot” was “unfortunately, not a focused one.” –  Jaime Laude, Pia Lee-Brago



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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.

South China Sea: The Philippines Relies Upon China’s “Good Faith”

November 7, 2017

More Chinese island-building? Rody relies on ‘good faith’

The image shows the Chinese miltiary structures installed on Feiry Cross Reef or Kagitingan Reef. AMTI, File

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte is relying on China’s “good faith” that it would not embark on new reclamation activities in the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea in the face of renewed concerns sparked by Beijing’s launching of a large dredging vessel.

In remarks before military officials and veterans of the Marawi battle, Duterte said he hoped China could be trusted to keep its word that it would not build new islands in disputed waters or in areas within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

China recently launched what it described as a “magic island-maker” vessel, triggering speculations that it would be used to reclaim Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.

The shoal is within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile EEZ, but was declared a “common fishing ground” by an arbitral court based in The Hague. It is only 124 nautical miles off Zambales.

Duterte said Chinese President Xi Jinping himself had promised not to reclaim Pagasa “and the nearby islands that we have occupied already.”

The same assurance, Duterte said, was given to Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano.

“He will not build something on the Scarborough Shoal,” the President said, referring to Xi.

“I just hope that he would honor it because it will change the entire geography of the world. And war starts. I don’t know what will be the next geographical division of Asia,” he added.

While vowing to assert the country’s rights over the West Philippine Sea, Duterte stressed it is not yet the time to do it.

The Chief Executive reiterated he would not go to war over the West Philippine Sea as it would result in a “massacre” of Filipino troops.

“If I were to insist on our arbitral claim as demanded by some of the justices, I would run afoul with everything else because China is not the only power that is claiming a part of the (South) China Sea. Taiwan has a claim and it overlaps the northern part of the country, our economic zones. And Vietnam has another idea of what this is. And Malaysia. And they were starting really to pile up,” the President said.

“Instead of just facing one, I’d be facing many. If there are concessions given or conceded, the other countries who are also claimants on the same area will start to assert. That’s my problem. It’s really the changing geopolitics,” he pointed out.

He also vowed to be “frank” in discussing the maritime row with China on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meet in Vietnam.

Duterte will leave for Da Nang today for the summit, where he is expected to interact with fellow leaders including Xi.

There was no official announcement if Duterte and Xi would have a meeting in Vietnam but the Philippine leader hinted that he might have a word with Chinese officials.

China Daily report said dredging ship Tiankun is 140 meters long and can dredge as much as 6,000 cubic meters of sand or clay per hour from 35 meters below the water’s surface.  Similar ships were said to have been used to build artificial islands in the South China Sea.

Earlier yesterday at Malacañang, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte “recognizes the principle of good faith in international relations”  when asked to comment on the launching of the dredging ship.

“China has told the President, they do not intend to reclaim Scarborough and we leave it at that. We need to rely on good faith because otherwise there would be no predictability in international relations,” Roque told a press briefing.

China occupied Panatag Shoal in 2012 after a standoff with Philippine Navy vessels, which had tried to arrest Chinese poachers. Chinese maritime surveillance ships harassed Philippine Navy vessels, enabling the poachers to escape with their illegal harvest of giant clams, endangered corals and baby sharks.

The Panatag standoff prompted the Aquino administration to contest China’s massive claim in the South China Sea before the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which eventually validated Manila’s position. Beijing had vowed not to comply with the ruling.

Asked whether the President would question the launching of the vessel, Roque replied: “As I said, he has relied completely on the principle of good faith. Which is, in fact, a fundamental and cardinal principle of international law.”

Roque noted that Duterte has opted to maintain very close and cordial relationship with China despite the dispute over some areas in the West Philippine Sea.

“I think we are seeing new heights in terms of Philippine-Chinese relations and it has resulted in very tangible results, particularly economic investments,” he said.

China has undertaken massive reclamation activities in Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Panganiban (Mischief), Zamora (Subi), Burgos (Gaven), Kennan (Hughes), Mabini (Johnson) and Calderon (Cuarteron) Reefs, areas located off the western province of Palawan.

Airstrips, radar systems and barracks were also seen on the reefs, reinforcing theories that China is shoring up its military might in the region.

China has denied militarizing the South China Sea and maintained that it is committed to maintaining peace and stability in the region.

Meanwhile, construction of a beaching ramp in Pag-asa Island in the Kalayaan Island Group has started in preparation for more improvements of military and civilian structures in the island town, the Department of National Defense said.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, through spokesman Arsenio Andolong, said the construction ramp is expected to be completed early next year, depending of weather conditions.

The defense official said a beaching ramp would allow large ships to dock and unload construction materials.




South China Sea: Philippines seeks gentleman’s agreement on sea code

May 20, 2017

Newly appointed Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano made this observation on Friday after the ASEAN and China finished a draft framework for negotiating a code of conduct (COC), despite regional skepticism over Beijing’s commitment to rules that can restrain its maritime ambitions. File


MANILA, Philippines – With no legally binding mechanism to enforce any deal on the South China Sea dispute, China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) may, in the meantime, settle for a “gentleman’s agreement” to prevent war or at least keep the situation in the region stable.

Newly appointed Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano made this observation on Friday after the ASEAN and China finished a draft framework for negotiating a code of conduct (COC), despite regional skepticism over Beijing’s commitment to rules that can restrain its maritime ambitions.

“Many countries want it to be legally binding. But what I’m saying is, let’s start with it being binding, gentleman’s agreement,” Cayetano said, referring to the absence in the draft framework of a clause specifying that a code should be legally binding.

“We have a community of nations that signed it,” he added.

He explained that legally binding means there is a court or tribunal to which parties can turn if another party reneges on the agreement.

“So, let me say this: definitely, it should be binding. Now, the question is, if it’s legally binding, which court can the parties go to? And the countries that don’t comply, will they respect that court? We’re all trying to avoid not only war, but instability,” Cayetano told reporters during a visit to the DFA Office of Consular Affairs on Macapagal Avenue on his first day as DFA chief. He was replying to a question on whether Manila should insist on a legally binding COC.

He admitted there is a need for a mechanism that would help resolve issues if some parties fail or refuse to comply with the code.

“I’m telling you the practical reality of negotiations in international agreement. So, do most or all of the countries want it to be legally binding? Yes. But will the language include that? We don’t know. Because if one or two do not approve of that, they don’t believe that there can be an independent court, will we go for nothing, no Code of Conduct?” Cayetano said. “Or will we agree to a code of conduct that will be enforced only by the community of nations who signed it?” he said.

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Southeast Asian nations with claims in the South China Sea have long wanted to sign China up to a legally binding and enforceable code.

China claims most of the energy-rich South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in sea-borne trade passes every year. Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims in the resource-rich waters, aside from China and the Philippines.

Arbitral ruling

In July last year, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague invalidated China’s claim to sovereignty over most of the South China Sea and the West Philippine Sea in a case filed against Beijing by the previous Aquino administration.

A code of conduct is the key objective of a 2002 Declaration on Conduct, large parts of which China has ignored, particularly a commitment not to occupy or reclaim uninhabited features.

China has piled sand upon reefs and other land features to build seven islands in disputed parts of the Spratly archipelago. China has also been transforming three of the reefs into what experts believe could be forward operating bases.

President Duterte on Friday described them as “some kind of armed garrison.”

China has built islands by reclamation of sand and coral and has militarized them for People’s Liberationa Army (PLA) use. Seen here, Chinese structures and an airstrip on the man-made Subi Reef at the Spratlys group of islands are shown from the Philippine Air Force C-130 transport plane of the Philippine Air Force during the visit to the Philippine-claimed Thitu Island by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Armed Forces Chief Gen. Eduardo Ano and other officials off the disputed South China Sea in western Philippines Friday, April 21, 2017. Francis Malasig/Pool Photo via AP

The code framework would envisage a round-the-clock hotline and urge defense officials to find ways to follow the code, Chee Wee Kiong of Singapore’s foreign ministry said on Thursday.

Some ASEAN diplomats fear China’s sudden interest in completing the code could be a strategy to buy time for Beijing to wrap up construction activities.

Experts say China wants to appear to engage ASEAN or bind its claimant states to a weak code at a time when US policy on the South China Sea is in a state of flux.

One ASEAN diplomat said the latest draft did not mention any dispute settlement mechanism or sanctions for violations, but focused mostly on managing tension and building trust.

“We are very realistic and practical,” said the source who declined to be identified. “We wanted first to pick the low hanging fruit. If we went straight to the contentious issues, we would not get to where we are now.”

The framework represented progress, but expectations should be realistic, said Jay Batongbacal, an expert on the South China Sea issue. “Given it’s been 15 years to get to a draft, I’m not really holding my breath,” he added.

What green light?

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella, meanwhile, rebutted yesterday the claims of Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio that President Duterte had given a green light to China’s further reclamation activities in the West Philippine Sea.

Abella explained Duterte maintains a two-track approach to keep a stable relationship with China.

“One, to grow our healthy economic, trade and investment relationships, and to ensure that our arbitral rights in the West Philippine Sea are not compromised, more so now through the newly established bilateral consultation mechanism to manage disputes in the area,” he said.

“The Philippines engaged (China) in a frank discussion on possible oil explorations in the WPS,” Abella said in a separate statement yesterday.

“President Duterte was forthright about its economic rights awarded by the Arbitral Court in The Hague, a claim the Chinese leader said they would vigorously contest given their historic claims to the area,” he added.

He stressed the President would never stop exploring peaceful ways of resolving the country’s maritime dispute with China.

“Given this complexity, both parties agreed to pursue a more peaceful resolution to the matter that satisfies both our sovereign and economic rights,” he added.

Abella echoed Duterte’s chastising the United States for not directly confronting China over its island building activities in the West Philippine Sea.  He said the US chose to remain on the sidelines despite having in its possession satellite images of Chinese activities in disputed waters.

“With all due respect to the Senior Associate Justice, Chinese island-building and military deployment activities on certain features in the West Philippine Sea have been ongoing for some years now,” Abella added.

“The disputes in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea are not the sum total of our relations with China, but we are cognizant of the warmer relationships we have in the region.”

Old issue

Duterte on Friday took Carpio and former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario to task for criticizing him over his decision to cozy up to China and separate from the US, a long-time ally.

He said Carpio and Del Rosario have had no basis to claim that he had totally disregarded the arbitral tribunal ruling favoring the Philippines’ position.

It was in the same remarks – delivered at the Philippine Coast Guard’s 333rd anniversary celebration in Davao City – that Duterte revealed that China’s President Xi Jinping had threatened war if the Philippines would force the issue of the arbitration ruling.

A senior security official, who declined to be named, said China was just bluffing. “China could just be exploiting our weaknesses using all elements within its national power,” he said.

“This is a very difficult issue but if push comes to shove, let it be known to all that we are determined, as protector of the people and state, to defend what is ours,” another official said.

Last Thursday, Carpio said Duterte had practically allowed China to continue its reclamation activities in the West Philippine Sea when he did not mention the territorial dispute in his ASEAN chairman’s statement.

“In 2017 we were the host (of the ASEAN Summit), the President was responsible for the chairman’s statement (and made) no mention of reclamation or militarization. For the Chinese this is a green light,” Carpio said.

Reports said that ASEAN leaders revised the final statement and removed any reference to the arbitration ruling. The revision reportedly happened after intense debates and lobbying among ASEAN leaders.

Carpio was a member of the country’s legal team that argued the Philippines’ case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

The magistrate said even the 2016 chairman’s statement in Cambodia mentioned China’s land reclamation activities.

“That statement was very good despite the fact that we were not happy. It was strong, it mentioned land reclamation, expressing concern about land reclamation, about land militarization. It was directed at China – do not reclaim further – especially Scarborough Shoal,” he said.

Carpio earlier cautioned that it would be “game over” for the Philippines if China succeeds in reclaiming Panatag or Scarborough Shoal. – With Christina Mendez, Jaime Laude


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China is preparing for the reclamation and construction on Scarborough Shoal

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. China says it is happy to control fishing in the South China Sea. Credit: Renato Etac

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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.

South China Sea: Former Philippine Foreign Secretary Suggests ASEAN Member States Make Hague International Court Ruling Part of Code of Conduct

April 25, 2017
The Philippines’ former top diplomat said the position that China’s SCS build-up is a fait accompli should be rejected. File

MANILA, Philippines –  Former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario yesterday urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to make the South China Sea (SCS) ruling an “integral” part of the Code of Conduct framework and the eventual finished document.

The Philippines’ former top diplomat said the position that China’s SCS build-up is a fait accompli should be rejected.

While most states strive for a peaceful, rules-based regional order in Southeast Asia, Del Rosario said China’s unilateralism has put this common vision at grave risk.

He urged ASEAN to be united in countering this challenge to its regional centrality and solidarity, noting that promoting the rule of law and strengthening multilateralism in support of the law must be key parts of ASEAN’s response.

“ASEAN and the international community as a whole should utilize the principles in the arbitral ruling to move diplomatic engagement forward,” Del Rosario said during the forum titled “The South China Sea: The Philippines, ASEAN, and their International Partners.”

The Philippines, under the Duterte administration, has decided to set aside the ruling in settling the maritime dispute with China.

“On shelving the ruling, what would happen if we should pass the point of no return?” Del Rosario asked.

The Philippines took a risk when the Philippine government went to arbitration at The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2013 with Del Rosario as foreign affairs secretary.

The ruling of the international arbitral tribunal not only vindicated the Philippines, but also upheld the rule of law over the waters and global commons of the SCS, making the ruling an integral part of the universal body of international law.

Manila made a strong contribution to the region, as the ruling benefited not only the claimants but also the whole world.

“My hope is that our ASEAN neighbors share the pride of what a member state like ours can accomplish, and see in the ruling an opportunity for all of the Southeast Asian region. Ultimately, advocating a rules-based regime is deeply embedded in who we are and what we must do,” Del Rosario said.

As this year’s chair of the ASEAN, the Philippines, he emphasized, has a unique and important opportunity to dwell on how it can work with its neighbors to ensure that a rules-based order succeeds.

Del Rosario also pointed out that the purpose of the cooperation should go beyond maintaining friendly ties, as the Philippines must also cooperate to ensure a neighborhood where countries follow the rules and uphold their commitments.

In 2002, ASEAN and China committed to a non-binding agreement over how claimants should all behave in the SCS. In the spirit of preventing and reducing tensions, the countries committed to self-restraint from activities that would complicate or escalate disputes.

“I am sorry to say that in the years that followed, one country did not exercise the necessary restraint expected of it,” Del Rosario said.

In 2017, as in 2012, he said that the greatest immediate source of regional uncertainty has been China’s unlawful efforts to expand its footprint throughout the SCS.

“Our region cannot promote the rule of law while ignoring the law as it stands,” Del Rosario said. “Moreover, we must not accept the position that China’s South China Sea build-up is a fait accompli that renders us helpless.”

It should be unthinkable for any diplomatic mechanism – whether bilateral or multilateral – to be used as a channel to reward unilateral activity or preserve unlawful gains, according to Del Rosario.

He urged the Philippines to speak out and work with its neighbors and friends to stand united in protest of island-building and militarization, Filipino fishermen being barred from entering Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, irreparable destruction of marine commons and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s challenged flyover in the SCS.

“We cannot wait for a ‘better time’ to come – we must create that time ourselves, lest that opportunity be lost forever,” Del Rosario said.



 (Philippine Star)

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


 (National Geographic 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.

Despite all this:

South China Sea: Philippines has lost traditional fishing ground as Vietnamese move in with Chinese, Philippines envoy to China says — Everyone shares the common fishing ground — But fewer fish each year

April 4, 2017
South China Sea: Philippines has lost traditional fishing ground as Vietnamese move in with Chinese, Philippines envoy to China says — Everyone shares the common fishing ground — But fewer fish each year

Scarborough Shoal, Bajo de Masinloc or Panatag Shoal, is a traditional common fishing ground located 120 nautical miles from Zambales. Google Maps

MANILA, Philippines — The reported presence of Vietnamese fishing vessels at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal is actually good news, Philippine Ambassador to China Chito Sta. Romana said Tuesday.

The United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal based in the Hague had ruled that the shoal is a traditional fishing ground of the Philippines, China, Taiwan and Vietnam.

RELATED: How the Hague court ruled on the Philippines’s 15 arguments

In an interview with ANC’s Hot Copy on Headstart, Sta. Romana said that Vietnamese presence in the region brings back the essence of Panatag Shoal as a common fishing ground.

“Had we known this verdict back it 2012 that it’s a historical common fishing ground perhaps we should not have arrested the Chinese fishermen. It should have been a common fishing ground,” Sta. Romana said.

READ: Seen fishing on Panatag, Vietnam gains from Philippines’ arbitral win

In 2012, the Philippines was involved in a tense standoff with China over the shoal located 120 nautical miles from Zambales.

This picture taken on July 19, 2013 shows giant clams on display in Tanmen, in China's southern Hainan Province. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO / AFP PHOTO / STR

In demand: Giant clams for sale in China’s southern Hainan Province. Photo: AFP

The standoff began when a Philippine Navy surveillance plane sighted eight Chinese fishing vessels anchored in a lagoon at Panatag.

The Philippine Navy then deployed warship BRP Gregorio del Pilar to inspect the Chinese vessels, wherein they discovered large amounts of illegally collected coral, giant clams and live sharks.

Image may contain: ocean, sky, boat, outdoor and water

A China Coast Guard ship (top) and a Philippine supply boat engage in a stand off as the Philippine boat attempts to reach the Second Thomas Shoal, a remote South China Sea a reef claimed by both countries, on March 29, 2014 (AFP Photo/Jay Directo )

Sta. Romana, however, said that the 2012 Panatag Shoal standoff led to the country’s loss of the traditional fishing ground.

“That is what led to our loss. We tried to enforce and say that it is ours… It is true that what is ours is ours if it’s accepted by the world but in that case, the Chinese also say the same thing,” the diplomat said.

There have been reports that China is building an environmental monitoring station on Panatag Shoal.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has denied the report, saying that such facility on Panatag Shoal had been checked and was found to be false.

“That does not exist at all,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said.

Hua Chunying, spokesperson of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “South China Sea is indisputable Chinese territory.”


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


 (National Geographic on the South China Sea)


Image may contain: sky, outdoor and water

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 to work with Asean on sea code

March 28, 2017
Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua relayed the message to President Duterte during their meeting in Davao City last Monday, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said. Kamuning Bakery Cafe/Released

MANILA, Philippines – China is determined to work with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for the crafting of a framework for the code of conduct for claimants in the South China Sea dispute.

Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua relayed the message to President Duterte during their meeting in Davao City last Monday, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said.

“His excellency Zhao expressed China’s determination to work with ASEAN member states in finalizing the Code of Conduct Framework on the South China Sea middle of this year,” Abella said in a statement.

Zhao said China is looking forward to the first meeting on bilateral mechanism for the South China Sea row in May.

“Through this bilateral mechanism, mutual trust and maritime cooperation will be forged and misunderstandings will be avoided,” Abella said.

Hours before the meeting, United States Ambassador Sung Kim called on Duterte to convey his country’s readiness to assist the Philippines in terms of military equipment and training.

“The President said that Philippines-US relations at the bilateral level remain strong and there is readiness to discuss more matters of mutual interest with the US,” he said.

“His Excellency Sung Kim also assured (President Duterte) that the US understands the security concerns of the Philippines and that the US is ready to provide more military equipment, assistance and training,” he added.

Abella said Duterte and Kim agreed that their countries have mutual interests and shared values and that fruitful engagements and discussions are very important “in ensuring that both states are on the same page.”

Duterte and Zhao also discussed the handling of the South China Sea issue, defense cooperation and capacity building, infrastructure projects financing, anti-poverty and the campaign against illegal drugs.

Abella said Zhao assured Duterte that China is ready to implement a cooperation agreement signed by the two countries’ coast guards.

“He (Zhao) looks forward to the Philippine Coast Guard delegation’s visit to China to hammer out actions, activities and new engagements to ensure that South China Sea is a sea of cooperation,” Abella said.

“He is also looking forward to the resumption of bilateral defense cooperation and participation in the One Belt, One Road Summit in Beijing in May 2017,” he added.

Zhao said China is hopeful that the Philippines would soon use its donations for anti-poverty programs and anti-illegal drugs operations.

Duterte also met with Péter Szijjártó, Hungary’s foreign affairs and trade minister, and expressed readiness to strengthen bilateral ties between Manila and Budapest.

“The President said that the Philippines is very interested in further strengthening bilateral relations with Hungary in terms of trade and investment and commerce, opening up the Philippine countryside as potential new markets, security cooperation and people-to-people exchanges through scholarship programs,” Abella said.

Szijjárto informed Duterte that Hungary is set to reopen its embassy in the Philippines.

“There will also be constant dialogue and person-to-person exchanges through scholarship programs to Hungary. Citing these areas of cooperation, Szijjártó said he is excited about the upgrade in the Philippines-Hungary cooperation,” Abella said.

Szijjárto said Hungary shares a common vision with the Philippines in the fight against terrorism and illegal migration.

Panatag master plan

Despite an earlier denial of reports that it was building a monitoring station on Panatag Shoal, China actually has a master plan for the full development of the shoal which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, former Parañaque congressman Roilo Golez said yesterday.

Based on the master plan, Beijing is eyeing a 3,000-meter long runway and a harbor on the shoal.

“In our various strategic meetings – that latest was held in Japan – China, it turned out, already has a master plan (for Panatag Shoal),” Golez said in a forum at the Manila Hotel yesterday.  – With Jaime Laude, Paolo Romero

Philippine President Duterte hits out at US for lack of action in South China Sea

March 24, 2017
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte listens as a reporter asks a question during a press conference at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila, Philippines on Monday, March 13, 2017. The Philippine president has ordered the military to assert his country’s ownership of a vast offshore region off its northeastern coast where Chinese survey ships have been sighted last year and alarmed defense officials. AP/Aaron Favila

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has questioned the silence of the United States over Chinese activities in the disputed South China Sea.

The president said that only the US can deal with China over the contested waters.

“Why in hell ang America siya lang talaga ang pwede kumasa doon bakit sabihin niya ngayon magpunta ang Navy ko? It will be a massacre for my soldiers, I will not do it (Why would America tell me to have my Navy sent to the South China Sea when it is the only one that can posture there?),” Duterte said in a speech during the opening ceremonies of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines’ 16th National Convention of Lawyers on Thursday evening.

Duterte noted that the Philippines had been warned about five years ago that somebody was going to build a structure in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, a traditional fishing ground off the coast of Zambales.

RELATED: Forget jet skis, Chinese choppers can take Duterte to disputed islands

The president said that the US should have addressed Chinese activities in the area as soon as they were informed about it.

“Bakit hindi mo pinuntahan doon? Bakit hindi mo sinita? Bakit hindi ka nagpadala ng limang aircraft carrier at kinasahan mo and you had to wait for the problem to ripen into international issue involving this time so many countries… You could have cut the problem in the bud had you taken a decisive action,” Duterte said.

The US government under former President Barack Obama, however, deployed several freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, challenging China’s excessive maritime claims. From October 2015 to September 2016 alone, the US challenged five of China’s claims, including its so-called jurisdiction over airspace above another country’s exclusive economic zone and Beijing’s laws criminalizing survey activities in the area.

No match for China

Duterte stressed that the Philippines cannot match China’s military power in case a war brews in the region.

“Wala tayong cruise missiles, wala tayo noon (We don’t have cruise missiles, we don’t have those). We are no match and we have to be brutally frank to admit it. ‘Wag na natin bolahin ang sarili natin (Let’s not delude ourselves),” the president said.

Duterte said on Thursday that China assured him that they will not build structures in Panatag Shoal out of respect for its friendship with the Philippines.

Meanwhile, the US has ramped up its patrols in the South China Sea in response to an assertive China.

The USS Carl Vinson, which is deployed at the Western Pacific as part of the US Pacific Fleet patrolling the Indo-Asia-Pacific, recently visited the Philippines.

The aircraft carrier strike group was deployed as part of the initiative to extend the command and control functions of the US 3rd Fleet.

The carrier, which began routine operations on February 18, was accompanied bu one warship, making it unlikely that the escort would break off for a freedom of navigation operation.

The Trump administration has signaled a tougher approach in the region.

“We have operated here in the past, we’re going to operate here in the future, we’re going to continue to reassure our allies,” Rear Admiral James Kilby, commander of the San Diego-based Carrier Strike group 1. — with reports from Associated Press


Duterte: China will not build structures in Panatag — “China has a word of honor,” the president said

March 23, 2017
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures as he answers questions from reporters during a press conference at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila, Philippines on Monday, March 13, 2017. The Philippine president has ordered the military to assert his country’s ownership of a vast offshore region off its northeastern coast where Chinese survey ships have been sighted last year and alarmed defense officials. AP/Aaron Favila

MANILA, Philippines — China will not build structures on Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in respect to its friendship with the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte said early Thursday.

“I was informed that they are not going to build anything sa Panatag out of respect for our friendship. They will stop there. Hindi nila gagalawin ‘yan, sabi ng China,” Duterte said in a televised press briefing upon arriving from Thailand.

The president added that China will not do anything to place its relationship with the Philippines in jeopardy.

“China has a word of honor,” the president said.

Duterte once again criticized the United States for being “double-faced” and compared to China.

“Alam mo ‘yung kaibigan kong isa sa likod ko… ito ang doble kara but you know, but China kung anong sabihin niya in good stead talagang ginagawa niya… Person and authority doon ‘pag magbitaw ng salita ‘yan hindi dito may State Department, may ano doon, kung anu-anong gawin sa iyo,” Duterte said.

China has denied reports that it is building an environmental monitoring station on Panatag Shoal.

READ: No monitoring station on Panatag – Beijing

The Chinese Foreign Ministry made the clarification almost simultaneously with Manila’s announcement that it has sent a note verbale seeking clarification for the report.

“We have checked with relevant authorities that the recent reports about building an environmental monitoring station on Huangyan Dao are false. There is no such a thing,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said in a media briefing.

Image may contain: one or more people

Hua Chunying

Chinese newspaper Hainan Daily earlier reported that Xiao Jie, the mayor of China’s Sansha City, said that building a monitoring station in the shoal is included in the Chinese government’s projects this year.

Sansha is a municipal government that administers several island groups including disputed areas such as the Spratly Islands.

The Department of Foreign Affairs is currently keeping close watch over Panatag Shoal, a traditional fishing ground located off the coast of Zambales.

Philippines: Acting Foreign Affairs Secretary neither confirms nor denies reported strong formal protest to China on South China Sea

March 22, 2017
Composite photo shows acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo and Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II. Aguirre announced that the Philippines is preparing a “strong” protest against China to be filed in the Hague, The Netherlands. Manalo, however, remained mum. AP

MANILA, Philippines — Acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo neither confirmed nor denied the reported strong formal protest that the Philippines is set to file against China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague.

On Tuesday, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II claimed that the Philippines is preparing to formally protest China’s plan to install a radar station at Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal in the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea.

READ: Philippines prepares protest vs China over Panatag

Manalo, however, said that the Philippines is still waiting for China’s reply regarding its reported plan in the disputed shoal.

“The other day, the Department of Foreign Affairs already issued or requested China for clarification on this reported plan. As I said, it’s only a reported plan so we’re seeking clarification from China,” Manalo said at a televised press briefing in Thailand.

The Philippine government is maintaining a regular and a close watch over Scarborough Shoal, Manalo said.

The country’s top diplomat added that there has been no change in the shoal and that Filipino fishermen can still freely access the area.

He added that the Department of Foreign Affairs would be aware of any developments in the area as they are receiving reports from the Coast Guard and security agencies.

‘Strategy’ in the works

Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, meanwhile, said that filing a protest in connection to the maritime dispute over the South China is part of the government’s strategy.

Apparently addressing criticisms of inconsistency in the government’s foreign policy, the senator said that a long-term strategy us being formulated in resolving issues in the contested waters.

“These are all parts of the dynamics and the strategy so please understand and give a latitude at the DFA… because although we do have to report to the people, what country will be able to achieve its objectives if we announce our strategy while we’re implementing our strategy,” Cayetano said.

Cayetano, who is chair of the Senate foreign affairs committee and is reportedly eyed to be the next top diplomat, assured the public that the president will fight for the country’s territory.

“We continue to assure the people that President Duterte will not give up a single centimeter of Philippine territory,” Cayetano said.

On July 12, 2016, a United Nations-backed tribunal issued its ruling on the Philippines’ complaint against China’s so-called nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea.

The arbitral tribunal ruled that China violated its commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea when it built artificial islands in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

The Duterte administration, however, said that it will set aside the arbitral tribunal’s ruling for the meantime in settling the dispute.


 (Contains links to several previos 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.