China is concerned that the Philippines will build a structure on Ayungin Shoal and said it is monitoring the latter’s movements in the area, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Wednesday.
Gazmin made the remark after speaking with Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing on the sidelines of the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers in Camp Aguinaldo.
“Ang sabi niya (Ma) ay mino-monitor nila ‘yung barko nating nandudoon, kung magtatayo tayo ng bagong structure,” Gazmin told reporters.
Earlier, Ma was seen seeking an audience with Gazmin, who ushered her into a corner where they spoke for about 10 minutes.
“They were concerned about the Philippines coming up with structures, additional structures in Ayungin Shoal. I told her (Ma) that we are moving towards Ayungin Shoal only to bring provisions of food and water for the soldiers who are there,” Gazmin said.Gazmin was referring to Marine soldiers on the BRP Sierra Madre, which now serves as a detachment after being grounded in 1999 at Ayungin, located 110 to 120 nautical miles from Rizal, Palawan.
Two Chinese Maritime Surveillance vessels are still at the shoal as of Wednesday, Col. Edgard Arevalo, the Navy’s spokesman on the West Philippine Sea, said in a phone interview.
“Ang threat is always there, always there, but we have some protocols like the avoidance of dangerous maneuvers, avoidance of confrontational moves, so right now it’s holding,” Gazmin said.
Ma, in a separate interview at Camp Aguinaldo, only told reporters that she and Gazmin discussed “cooperation and very good exchanges” between China and the Philippines.
“We talked about the balanced relations, China is ready to develop cooperation and very good exchanges between the two sides because this year is the year of friendly exchanges between us,” the Chinese envoy said.
But Gazmin said the “cooperation” Ma spoke of was about developments at Ayungin Shoal.
“‘Yung cooperation, cooperation in terms of hindi natin iva-violate ‘yung usapan na magtatayo tayo ng mga structures, sabi naman natin, magdadala tayo ng supplies sa mga tao doon, tubig at pagkain,” he said.
The defense chief said he also discussed with Ma the scheduled “rotation” of Philippine troops stationed at Ayungin.
“Hindi naman puwedeng permanente ang tao dun, masisira ang ulo,” Gazmin said. (John Roson)
– end –