MANILA (Mabuhay) — Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin has denounced anew China’s massive reclamation works in South China Sea or West Philippine Sea, saying that these reclamation activities have huge effects on security in the Asia Pacific region.
In an interview with reporters at the military headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City on Monday, Gazmin specifically hit China’s latest dredging activities in the Panganiban Reef also known as Mischief Reef, one of the mineral-rich islands in the disputed Spratlys.
“Malaki ang epekto noon sa regional security. Maaapektuhan ang region in terms of freedom of navigation, freedom of the air space,” Gazmin said.
“We are worried and we continue to stick to our initial reaction which is to apply the rule of law,” Gazmin added.
In a photo released last month by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), it can be seen that China has built small artificial land formations, fortified seawalls and has set up construction equipment along Mischief Reef.
Although Department of National Defense spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said no permanent structures have been spotted yet in Mischief Reef, China’s activities not only post threats on security but also have dire consequences on the Philippine economy.
“(Ang) pwede nilang gawin diyan, e mangingisda sila. Uubusin nila lahat ng isda diyan. Kontrolado na nila ‘yung lahat ng natural resources. With what they are doing, parang gumagawa sila ng pader,” Galvez said.
Meanwhile, Gazmin welcomed US President Barack Obama’s denouncement of China’s activities in the disputed territory, as well as the latter’s expression of support to the smaller claimant-countries including the Philippines.
“’Di ba very significant ‘yung one of the most powerful countries in the world supporting a small country, ‘di ba?” Gazmin said.
In a speech delivered in Jamaica last week, Obama said the US is “concerned” over China’s rapid reclamation of several reefs in the South China Sea.
Obama said China is not abiding by international norms and rules and is using “its sheer size and muscle to force countries into subordinate positions.”
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief General Gregorio Pio Catapang had earlier confirmed that China is doing reclamation works in seven reefs in the South China Sea, three of which are within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.
While alarmed by China’s latest activities, Gazmin admitted that the most that the country can do right now is to continue with its monitoring activities, especially in Mischief Reef.
“So ganun lang muna tayo. ‘Di mo maaksyonan ang mali ng isang mali,” Gazmin said.
He said the Philippines also continues to push for the passage of a legally-binding code of conduct on exploration of the South China Sea.
The Philippines has a pending diplomatic protest against China before the United Nations (UN) for the latter’s reclamation works in the South China Sea.
Gazmin said that while the case is pending with the UN, the military will refrain from any action that may further escalate the tension.
Although he admitted that the military will intensify its monitoring activities in the disputed reefs, Gazmin was mum on whether the military will send additional troops for patrol operations.
“’Yung pagdadagdag ng tropa, hindi na namin dapat sabihin sa inyo, but we continue to monitor. We will increase our monitoring capability in these areas,” Gazmin said.
Aside from China and the Philippines, other countries who have claims over islands in the West Philippine Sea also referred as the Spratly Islands are Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei. (MNS)