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Phl hits back at China over sea infra work

Aerial surveillance images obtained by The STAR show Ma- bini Reef in March last year (left), with only one building that served as a temporary shelter for workers. The image on the right, taken recently, shows more structures and trees planted on the reef.

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines assailed China yesterday for contesting Manila’s planned repair and maintenance works on some islands in the West Philippine Sea, saying they are “in no way comparable” to the Asian power’s massive reclamation activities which are in violation of international laws.

“The Philippines’ possible undertaking of necessary maintenance and repairs on its existing facilities in the West Philippine Sea, over which the Philippines rightfully exercises sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction, is no way comparable to China’s massive reclamation activities, which not only violate international law and UNCLOS but also unnecessarily raise regional tensions,” Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Charles Jose said, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The DFA said China’s reclamation activities would also have severe impact on the environment, particularly on marine biodiversity.

China’s activities were apparently intended to change the status quo in the area in anticipation of a UN arbitral decision favorable to the Philippines.

Ironically, Beijing has accused the Philippines of hypocrisy and of infringing on China’s territory when Manila announced plans to undertake repair works on facilities on Pag-Asa Island.

But the Department of National Defense said on Friday it is holding off repair works on Pag-Asa in deference to the Declaration of Conduct (DOC) of parties in the South China Sea.

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DND Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said any repair activities on the island would require the building of a port, a procedure that would change the landscape and in effect violate the DOC.

Jose said China’s recent statement expressing concern over the Philippines’ plans “should not distract us from the real issues in the South China Sea, which are China’s illegitimate ‘nine-dash-line’ claim, and China’s unilateral and aggressive behavior in asserting that claim, as exemplified by its massive an unrestrained reclamation.”

Gazmin revealed in October last year a Palace-ordered freeze on infrastructure work – including repairs – on military and air facilities on Pag-Asa Island.

The freeze was meant to keep the Philippines on a “moral high ground” in its arbitration case against China.

Pag-Asa Island is one of the country’s islands and reefs in the disputed Spratlys region being claimed in whole by China and in part by Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan.

The Philippines built a town hall, a 1.3-kilometer airstrip, a naval station, a health center and recently a kindergarten in the island. – With Aurea Calica, Jaime Laude

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