PHL to protest planned Chinese construction at Panatag Shoal
Philippine officials say the sighting of the blocks can be a prelude to Chinese construction of structures, similar to what Beijing did to Mischief Reef, a rich fishing ground within Philippine territory off South China Sea that came under China’s control in 1995.
“We intend to file a diplomatic protest,” Del Rosario told GMA News Online in a chance interview, when asked about the Philippine government's action regarding the structures.
At Thursday's hearing on the proposed DFA 2014 budget at the House of Representatives, Del Rosario said they were already drafting the new diplomatic protest, which is expected to be sent to Beijing "in the next few days."
He said the protest will be on top of an existing arbitration case filed by the Philippines against China.
"I think that's a substantive piece of information that we can tag onto our arbitration case, which we expect to work positively for us," he said.
GMA News Online sought a comment from the Chinese Embassy in Manila, but did not receive a reply.
Tensions between the two Asian neighbors are likely to flare up again as Philippine military aerial photos showed more than 70 concrete blocks at the lagoon of the shoal, called Panatag or Bajo de Masinloc by Manila.
“There are approximately 75 concrete blocks yun yung sa latest na nakita dun, scattered in a two hectare area sa may northern portion ng Bajo de Masinloc natin. Each block would be approximately two feet by two feet,” Defense spokesman Peter Paul Galvez told reporters Wednesday.
Officials said the shoal, located near Zambales, falls within Philippine territory as mandated by international law. China is insisting ownership of the area, even if it is far from its nearest landmass of Hainan province.
The Philippine government has adopted the name West Philippine Sea for parts of the South China Sea. Vietnam has also squared off with China in the contested region due to recent maritime confrontations.
Manila and Beijing figured in a standoff in Scarborough last year, which ended temporarily when President Benigno Aquino III ordered Philippine vessels to withdraw due to bad weather.
China never left the area and even roped off the entrance to the shoal to prevent Filipino fishermen from gaining access and shelter in the vast lagoon.
The South China Sea—a strategic waterway where a bulk of the world's trade passes and believed to be rich in oil and natural gas—had been a source of conflict among competing claimants the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, China and Taiwan. Analysts fear the competing claims could spark a military conflict in the region.
China claims the waters nearly in its entirety, citing historical entitlements as the basis for its huge claim, which Manila branded as “excessive and a violation of international law.”
The Philippines challenged this claim before a United Nations-linked arbitral tribunal, where a resolution is pending.
Beijing formally notified the tribunal last month that it will not join the legal proceedings, dismissing Manila’s case as groundless and legally infirm. — with Patricia Denise Chiu/KBK, GMA News