Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Wednesday said President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the stop to the construction on Sandy Cay due to strong opposition from China.
Sandy Cay is a newly formed sandbar near the Filipino-controlled Pag-asa Island in the disputed South China Sea.
"We tried to put some structures in one of the sandbars near our island and the Chinese reacted. They complained that we are occupying a new feature,”Lorenzana said at the Albert Del Rosario Institute forum in Makati City.
"The President came to know about this and he said, ‘Let's pull out,’" he added.
Lorenzana said the Philippine government brought people to Sandy Cay, which lies 2.5 nautical miles from Pag-asa Island to put up shelters for Filipino fishermen.
However, Duterte decided to stop the construction after Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano reminded him that Manila and Beijing have agreed not to construct on any new features in the South China Sea.
“The Chinese said they are not going to occupy any new features in the Spratlys and the South China Sea and the tension was lowered again,” Lorenzana said, adding that there were no more Filipino and Chinese presence in Sandy Cay.
Fresh tensions between the two sides, which occurred in August, prompted both sides to consider coming up with a protocol arrangement to manage similar situations and prevent confrontations, Lorenzana said.
“There was an agreement between our Foreign Secretary and their side that it will just be a status quo, no occupation of new features. So, when that sandbar issue came out, they considered it new feature," Lorenzana said.
"They are correct in saying that it is a new feature. So, since we agreed that no one will occupy new features, we shouldn’t have occupied that,” he said.
Professor Jay Batongbacal, University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea director, said that any construction on new features is a violation of the 2002 non-binding code of conduct in the South China Sea.
“I think based on our commitment under the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea where we say that all parties commit to not inhabit any new features, then an additional construction on any feature including a sandbar will run against that commitment,” Batongbacal said.
China claims virtually the entire South China Sea - a vital sealane where oil and natural gas have been discovered in several areas. It also claimed in whole or parts by Vietnam, Taiwan, Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
Duterte, who has sought Chinese trade and economic aid, has shelved long-running territorial disputes, including the pushing for the implementation of the arbitral tribunal resolution won by the Philippines.
While ignoring the ruling—an offshoot of a case filed by the Philippines in 2013—China has beefed up its military presence in contested territories.
China was accused of militarizing the South China Sea after it was reported that it has installed missiles and radars on artificial islands it built on the waters. —NB, GMA News