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Cayetano: Presence of Chinese vessels near Pag-asa Island means nothing

The alleged presence of Chinese vessels near the Pag-asa Island should not necessarily cause alarm or concern to the Philippine government, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said on Wednesday.

In a press conference at the House of Representatives, Cayetano neither confirmed not denied Magdalo party-list Representative Gary Alejano's claim that five Chinese vessels have been deployed near the island.

"I can't confirm nor deny [Alejano's statement] because this is part of the discussions with the command center," he said.

"We will tell you if it will cause a diplomatic or military alarm," he added.

Citing sources from the military, Alejano on Tuesday said that China has deployed two frigates, one Coast Guard vessel and two large fishing vessels, with their maritime militia, one to three nautical miles north of Pag-asa Island.

"Further, the report said that two days ago, a Philippine government ship from BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources) was prevented by Chinese fishing vessels from going near our sand bars located generally west of Pag-asa Island, around two to seven miles away," he added.

But Cayetano said the mere presence of Chinese ships in the area should not always be a cause for alarm.

"Kung tayo ang may gagawin sa Pag-asa, and we have four navy ships doon, do you think sa China, everyone would be alarmed? Or will they just pick up the phone and tell us, why do you have this number of ships there?" he said.

"The presence of ships alone does not mean anything," he added.

Cayetano noted that the concern about the presence of vessels near the island may have been brought about by the notion that China is an "enemy."

"Let me ask Cong. Alejano, why were we not concerned about the US doing freedom of navigation, ang lalaki ng ships nila. Why? Because they are allies," he said.

"So if we keep looking at China as the enemy, everytime may movement sila, masyado tayong nagre-react. If we start developing mutual trust with them, we pick up the phone and call them, 'Bakit kayo maraming ships dito?'" he added.

Cayetano, nevertheless, assured that the situation was "very stable" in the area where the Chinese vessels had been deployed.

"We are in constant touch with our Chinese counterparts, may it be through the Ambassador or through the Foreign Minister. There are issues now and then, there are actions taken by claimants now and then. But the department is taking upon itself to do all diplomatic actions necessary," he said.

China has been criticized for carrying out land reclamation and major construction of military infrastructure on artificial islands in disputed territories in the South China Sea, including the Spratly archipelago, parts of which are also claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

China has repeatedly denied charges it is militarizing the South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. — MDM/KVD, GMA News