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Gov't urged to prepare for 'worst' in sea row with China

An aerial shot of Pag-Asa Island, part of the disputed Spratlys Group, in the West Philippine Sea. The Philippines claims the islands as part of its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone prescribed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

MANILA, Philippines — A national security observer urged the government to prepare for China's possible "punitive action" against the Philippines as it pursues a United Nations arbitration on the South China Sea dispute.

Rafael Alunan III, former Interior Secretary under the Ramos administration, said in a statement shared with Philstar.com that the government should work on a strategy in case the Asian giant cuts off its economic ties from the country and sabotages key infrastructure.

"China has threatened sanctions in case we file our memorial on March 31... The worst case scenario would be the escalation of crippling economic sanctions," Alunan said.

The Aquino administration had said it has exhausted all peaceful means to settle the dispute, with the arbitration as a final resort.

China has long opposed the case filed by the Philippines pending before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, Netherlands. Beijing has also rejected and returned Manila's Notification and Statement of Claim on the case.

Besides economic penalties, Manila may potentially have to deal with the Chinese's intensified access in the contested maritime region including reefs and shoals currently controlled by the Philippines, he said.

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Alunan also warned of a potential "irregular warfare" such as the sabotage of the Philippines' most vulnerable sides--command and control systems, information structures and critical infrastructures such as telecommunications and even water.

"Are we ready as we can be in the diplomatic, critical infrastructure, trade, tourism, information, military and internal security sectors? Do we have fallback plans all set to go between the government and the private sector, and with allied nations?" Alunan asked.

"What countermeasures have been put in place to soften the impact and 'reciprocate'?" he continued.

Read past articles on the sea row: Disputed Seas - Philstar Special Site

Alunan said government agencies along with the police force and the military should consider drafting a national security plan in the face of China's "growing long-term threat to global security."

"Defending ourselves rests primarily on our own will and skill to stitch and viable national security plan and strategies," Alunan, a Harvard graduate, said.

Maritime scenarios

Chinese coast guard vessels have been spotted in Philippine-claimed areas in the disputed sea in the past years, forcing Manila to issue diplomatic protests to Beijing amid the impending arbitral proceedings.

Alunan, a member of Former Senior Government Officials political group, said that besides coast guard vessels, China has been using its "fishing fleets" in the disputed waters as the Philippines does not have counterpart vessels.

"If we don't have the appropriate defenses there, China would have won the war it is already waging without firing a shot," he said.

The former government official pictured how Chinese forces may position themselves in the West Philippine Sea as a confrontation bait for Manila if Beijing would step up its opposition to the international arbitration.

The Philippines may be framed by China through a "false flag operation" if it does not fall for the bait.

"We must anticipate intensifying harassment from China's maritime enforcement vessels ... We should have 14/7 surveillance of the West Philippine Sea like CCTV in the sky that can see at night to capture in film what [China] is doing and would have done to show to the world," Alunan said.

Modernization of the military similarly an urgent resolution to boost maritime defense, he said.

US' role

Alunan said that the country's Mutual Defense Treaty with the US does not cover security protocols to deal with Chinese's fishing vessels' presence within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

The Philippines should then set up its resources in view of China's future moves. Alunan suggested that unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs can be rented from the US or Israel to monitor the coastal territory.

The country, moreover, should not fully depend on the US and assume that it will take its allies side.

"If our allies see that we are prepared to defend ourselves by all justifiable means necessary, then they will help us all the way," Alunan explained.

American President Barack Obama had condemned Chinese "bullying" in the region but maintained that the US is neutral on the sea row.

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