Duterte downplaying China's incursion, bullying

Audrey Morallo (Philstar.com) - November 9, 2017 - 11:39am

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte is downplaying China's incursions and bullying of the Philippines, Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano said Thursday.

"Chinese forces, military and coast guard, are illegally entering our Exclusive Economic Zone yet our DFA Secretary and the President could only respond that we assume good faith in their actions," Alejano said in a statement.

"The administration has been downplaying the situation in the West Philippine Sea while China continues to push us into the corner," he said.

Alejano was reacting to the statement of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Wednesday that the president ordered the military to halt its construction of temporary shelters on sandbars just off Pag-asa Island in August following a protest from China, which said that such actions were in violation of an agreement to maintain the status quo in the contested waters.

Alejano said that the Philippines immediately stopped its actions because of a "minute reaction" from Beijing while Chinese forces continued with their illegal incursion into Manila's Exclusive Economic Zone. Recently, China has been found to be unceasing in its installation of military equipment in Philippine waters.

READ:  Chinese forces harass Filipino ships near Pag-asa, says Alejano

He also slammed China for protesting the plan of the Philippines to construct makeshift shelters on the sandbars off the coast of Philippine-claimed Pag-asa Island intended for use by fishermen in the waters.

He said that China's opposition to the construction had no "acceptable basis" and that the Philippines did not violate the 2002 Declaration of Conduct.

"The planned construction in Sandy Cay was not a new occupation by the Philippines. In fact, the sand bars have traditionally been under effective control of the Philippine troops," Alejano said, adding that the area has been the subject of patrols and visitations by Filipino troops and fishermen for many years.

READ:  Esperon denies Chinese occupation of Sandy Cay

However, for Jay Batongbacal of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and the Law of the Sea, such construction, no matter how small, was not allowed by the commitments of the Philippines under the 2002 DOC.

"Based on our commitment under the 2002 Declaration of Conduct where we said that all parties commit to not inhabit any new features then an additional construction on any feature including a sandbar would probably run against that commitment," he said.

"In principle though, the 2002 DOC clearly says that we should not be creating new structures on new features," he added but noted that China had constructed bigger structures in the area.

Batongbacal said although the West Philippine Sea had been home to temporary shelters since the 1940's the 2002 DOC basically tied Manila's hands.

He also doused fears that China would use its enormous "island-maker" in the area, saying that its existence is not a concern just yet.

"It's when it moves when we should be concerned," he stated.

READ:  Carpio: China virtually occupying Sandy Cay

A group of opposition senators meanwhile suggested to the Philippine government to use the country's chairmanship of ASEAN this year to rally its allies in the region to end what they described as China's grab of Filipinos' food and fish.

Sens. Bam Aquino, Frank Drilon, Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan and Antonio Trillanes IV said that the Philippines should enforce the 2016 ruling of a United Nations-backed tribunal which invalidated much of China's expansive claim over the resource-rich region.

They said that Beijing's stake over the area was bigger than the country's land area of 300,000 square kilometers and had compromised many Filipinos' interest.

"Since before the decision, China has been taking our food. It’s been taking our fish. The government, in behalf of the Filipino people, and especially our fisher folk, should enforce this decision so that our fisher folk can go back to this maritime space and fish," the senators said.

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