Headlines Skinning Left, pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1
Headlines ( Leaderboard Top ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1

Duterte: No weapons in island occupation

The President made the clarification yesterday at the Davao International Airport shortly before departing for Saudi Arabia. His pronouncements came on the heels of Beijing’s voicing concern over his earlier statement that he had ordered the military to occupy at least nine islets and reefs under Philippine control. Simeon Celi Jr./Presidential Photo

MANILA, Philippines - No new weapons are being eyed for islets and land features in the West Philippine Sea over which President Duterte wants the military to exercise greater control.

The President made the clarification yesterday at the Davao International Airport shortly before departing for Saudi Arabia. His pronouncements came on the heels of Beijing’s voicing concern over his earlier statement that he had ordered the military to occupy at least nine islets and reefs under Philippine control.

“For the information of China, we will not place there any offensive weapons, not even one gun,” he said.

“We are just there to claim the island for us because that is really ours and I have ordered the AFP to build structures there to signify, atin ito (it’s ours),” he maintained, referring to the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Reacting to Duterte’s order, Beijing had urged the President to “properly manage” the dispute over areas in the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea.

Duterte explained he issued the order amid a “heightening of geopolitical issues” and stressed he did not want “to get involved in any war with nations.”

Headlines ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1

“China can relax. We are friends. We will not go to war with you. We’re just trying to maintain the balance of the geopolitical situation there,” he said in a press briefing. “Maybe when we get rich, very rich, I can sell the land to you for – inyo na if the spectacle of a war is gone and nothing is dangerous to the Philippines,” he said without providing details.

“Now, they (Chinese) are trying to position themselves strategically and I’d like to address myself to the Chinese government and the… ambassador,” he said, referring to Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua.

“I ordered the occupation of the 10 or nine islands that are just near our shores because there’s a heightening of the geopolitical issues and eventually maybe a violent low-intensity war over here,” he said.

“We’ll be caught in the crossfire if hostilities break out because everybody knows the US has been stockpiling weapons there,” he said.

“I have extended my hand and friendship to the Chinese government,” he said.

“Kindly, kindly take a deep look at the situation. Everybody’s grabbing every land, every islet,” Duterte said. “And nearest to us are the 10 islands and I have it on good authority.”

Asked about the recent development between China and the United States, which struck an agreement to avert a trade war, Duterte said it was a welcome development that would put the Philippines at an advantage.

“As a matter of fact, I’ve been praying that the two would get together and talk about really what’s – what ails this planet and talk about peace only and stop violence all over the world,” he said.

Another expedition to Benham

Meanwhile, a group of scientists and government officials led by Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol is embarking on another exploratory trip to the 13-million-hectare Benham Rise tomorrow to check the area’s potential as a food source.

With Piñol in the exploration are officials and scientists from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).

A government-owned oceanographic research vessel will take the group to a shallow portion of Benham Rise.

“The flotilla will proceed to the shallow portion of Benham Rise where the depth is only about 70 feet and anchor payaos or fish sheds where the fishermen could catch fish using hand lines,” Piñol said.

“BFAR officials and scientists will also study whether it is viable to set up floating structures to serve as rest and refuge area for fishermen and scientists,” he added.

Joining the expedition are 10 fiberglass fishing boats, each weighing 4.5 tons, measuring 38 feet with two engines and equipped with a fish box.

The new fiberglass fishing boats will be distributed to groups of fishermen in Infanta, Quezon tomorrow before the flotilla begins its journey.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said Filipino scientists and fishermen can sail to Benham Rise unimpeded as it is clear that the Philippines has sovereign rights over the area.

“The question of sovereign rights of the Philippines over Benham Rise has already been settled,” he pointed out.

“It is clear that sovereign rights to explore and benefit from the resources of the EEZ, the continental shelf and the seabed and subsoil of the extended continental shelf in the Benham Rise region belongs to the Philippines pursuant to the provisions of UNCLOS and the recommendations of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf with respect to Benham Rise,” Jose stressed.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry earlier said China was willing to engage in joint scientific research with the Philippines in the area.

Last year, BFAR personnel and marine conservation group Oceana Philippines explored Benham Rise and another part of the area called Benham Bank.

The undersea region east of Luzon is located off the provinces of Aurora and Isabela and is duly recognized by the United Nations in 2012 as the newest Philippine territory under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Benham Bank, the shallowest portion of the unexplored seamount, is one of the traditional fishing grounds of coastal dwellers on the northeastern coast of Luzon.

Scientists studied the underwater terrain of Benham Bank covering 12 research stations and discovered different soft and hard corals, fish, algae and sponges.

Based on oceanographic explorations, there are more than 50 species of fish and tiered plate corals in Benham Bank.

The area is part of the spawning grounds for the Pacific bluefin tuna which are known to swim to the US and Mexico, but come back to spawn in the western Pacific, including Benham Rise.

“We urge the government to expedite the formulation of the management framework for Benham Rise to protect and sustainably manage it. We need to prioritize its protection, including the Benham Bank as a no-take zone,” Oceana Philippines vice president Gloria Ramos said.

Oceana is pushing for a management plan to include strict enforcement of biodiversity conservation, fisheries and commercial and economic activities in the area.

“We all recognize the significance of Benham Rise for food security and climate change adaptation. We need to act fast in protecting it from external threats such as territorial encroachments, overfishing and other exploitative activities,” Ramos said. – Louise Maureen Simeon, Edith Regalado, Pia Lee-Brago

Headlines ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1
  • Follow Us:
Healines Skinning Right, pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1