DFA mum on reports US Navy installed concrete blocks in Panatag
Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star) - October 27, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) yesterday kept mum on reports that the concrete blocks in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal put by China could have been placed by the US Navy decades ago.

DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said it would be better for the defense department to comment on the reports.

VERA Files earlier reported that Philippine military investigators found that the concrete blocks attributed to China were used earlier by the US Navy as “sinkers” to preserve the wreckage of old ships they used for target practice.

The Philippine government did not protest the concrete blocks in the Panatag Shoal as Manila and Beijing maintained opposing views.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said Thursday that the Department of National Defense (DND) is free to release photos of the concrete blocks in Panatag Shoal.

“I think you have two opposing views, the Philippines view is that there are concrete blocks there except that we don’t know how it got there, when it got there and who put it there. The Chinese view is that there are no concrete blocks. There are only rocks. So there you are,” Del Rosario said.

Asked why no diplomatic protest was lodged by the Philippines, Del Rosario said the government has yet to determine the facts of the case.

Del Rosario said the government believes it is possible that the arbitration case on the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) can be completed by 2016.

On the other hand, China’s stance on the international arbitration initiated by the Philippines will not change as it continued to reject participation in the proceedings.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Beijing’s position on the Philippines taking its dispute with China for arbitration and refusal to accept arbitration are fully supported by international law.

“China’s position on the South China Sea question is clear. China does not accept the so-called arbitration launched by the Philippines. This position is fully supported by international law and will not change,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said on Friday.

“We hope the Philippine side could implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in a full and earnest manner and come back to the right track of resolving disputes through bilateral talks,” she added.

Del Rosario said arbitral proceedings would benefit every nation in the region in finally settling the dispute against China’s maritime claims.

“We see arbitration as an open, friendly, and durable solution to the dispute. We believe it benefits everyone. For China, arbitration will define and clarify its maritime entitlements. For the Philippines, arbitration will clarify what is ours, specifically our fishing rights, rights to resources and rights to enforce laws within our exclusive economic zone,” Del Rosario said.

For the rest of the international community, Del Rosario said the clarification of maritime entitlements will assure peace, security, stability and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

The core issue, he said, is China’s claim of indisputable sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea under its nine-dash line position.

Del Rosario said China’s claim is expansive, excessive and in gross violation of international law, specifically the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“China’s continuous overwhelming naval and maritime presence in the area is also contributing to the raising of regional tensions,” he said.

China has made its presence near the Philippines felt by preventing Filipino fishermen from going to Panatag Shoal.

President Aquino said on Wednesday, however, that the concrete blocks in Panatag Shoal do not pose a threat to freedom of navigation and should not be taken as a sign that the country has lost sovereignty over the area.

Last month, a senior military official revealed discussions over the possibility of removing the concrete blocks believed to have been placed by China in Panatag Shoal.

Navy chief Vice Adm. Jose Luis Alano said measures to take out the blocks discovered by authorities this month are being discussed, but he declined to elaborate.

Alano said the Philippines has not lost Panatag Shoal even if concrete blocks believed to be foundations of a Chinese structure are already in the area.

“What the Philippines has done is to address this through the international tribunal and this is now up to the international community to discuss the issues,” he said.

Alano said the area had been under close surveillance since the concrete blocks were sighted. The area is located 124 nautical miles from the nearest point in Zambales.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin revealed at least 75 concrete blocks were spotted near the disputed shoal. He said the blocks appeared to be foundations for buildings.

Officials believed the concrete blocks are for a construction project.

The concrete blocks are scattered in a two-hectare area in the northern portion of Panatag Shoal, also known locally as Bajo de Masinloc.

The Philippines asserted it effective occupation and jurisdiction over Bajo de Masinloc since its independence.

The country erected flags in some islands and a lighthouse, which it reported to the International Maritime Organization.

The Philippine and US Naval Forces have used it as impact range and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has conducted scientific, topographic and marine studies in the shoal, while Filipino fishermen regularly use it as fishing ground.


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