Tag Archive: China


Pag-Asa (Thitu) Island. 2008 photo by author.

Pag-Asa (Thitu) Island. 2008 photo by author.

Plans to turn Philippine-occupied features on the disputed Spratly Islands have been postponed for at least a year as these coincided with the election season, the territories’ mayor said Thursday.

Eugenio Bito-onon, mayor of Kalayaan town under Palawan province, said the tourism campaign supposed to start this year will “most probably” be launched in 2017, after the new administration has taken over.

Representatives of the Department of Tourism (DoT) were supposed to assess the biggest Philippine-occupied feature, Pag-Asa (Thitu) Island, two weeks ago, but cancelled the visit, he said.

“Kinancel, partly because of election… Naabutan kasi ng election ‘yung Senate bill. So after the election ire-refile uli, a new start, pero after that tag-ulan na ‘yun, so most probably 2017 na [ang tourism campaign],” Bito-onon said.

Bito-onon, who himself is running this year for another term as Kalayaan mayor, was referring to the bill filed by Senator Sonny Angara which aims to declare the Pag-Asa Island cluster as an “eco-tourism destination and protected area.”

The bill, which also covers Parola (Northeast Cay), Kota (Loaita), and Panata (Lankiam Cay) islands, entails a call for funding from the DoT.

Overtures for making Kalayaan a tourism attraction were renewed in the past few years, with an eye at further cementing the Philippines’ claim to the islands, reefs, and atolls comprising the town.

These came amid China’s buildup of artificial islands and structures in nearby features, of which some were said to have been opened to tourists recently.

Along calls for tourism in Kalayaan were plans by the national government to repair the deteriorating Rancudo Air Field on Pag-Asa and building a jetty there.

Both construction plans reached bidding stage, but were shelved as the government wants to maintain “moral high ground” in the case filed against China at the United Nations’ International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).

ITLOS is expected to decide on the case this year, but Bito-onon said this was not a factor in the tourism drive’s delay.

“It’s more due to election,” he said.

Philippine election laws prohibit almost all public works and funding, especially during campaign period.

“Paano mo naman sisimulan ‘yung project kung walang pondo?” Bito-onon said.

Despite this, Bito-onon said he remains hopeful that the tourism project would still move forward.

He said the local government of Kalayaan had already pushed through with its acquisition of a steel-hulled boat, a project aimed at aiding both residents and soon-to-be tourists.

The project has been bidded out and the 22-meter boat worth P10.6 million is expected to be delivered this September, he said.

“This will be used for the safety of travelers,” as well as rescue operations and bringing food, water, and other supplies for residents in times of emergency, Bito-onon said. (John Roson)

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Japan Self-Defense Forces chief Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano is interested in holding more drills with the Philippines, the Department of National Defense said Friday.

The DND made the announcement while warning that China has reached the point of “militarizing” the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Kawano paid a courtesy call to Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Wednesday, after meeting Armed Forces chief General Hernando Iriberri, according to the DND.

Kawano expressed interest in conducting more exercises, “particularly amphibious landing exercises and amphibious operations,” according to a statement issued by Gazmin’s office.

Gazmin welcomed Kawano’s interest but noted that a “visiting forces agreement” is needed before such activities can be conducted.

Kawano, for his part, assured that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing for national security legislation that could expand the JSDF’s activities with the Philippines.

Kawano told Gazmin of the need to share information to address “common security issues” and noted the importance of capacity-building in humanitarian assitance and disaster relief.

During the meeting, Kawano also mentioned that China is trying to change the status quo in the region with its reclamation activities, according to the DND.

In a separate statement, DND spokesman Peter Paul Galvez warned that China’s activities in the West Philippine Sea are now in “militarization stage.”

“This is the worst stage of all, this is the militarization stage, and it must be stopped,” DND spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said.

Galvez made the remark when asked to comment on Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua’s announcement that China will build various facilities on reefs which it had reclaimed.

Zhao announced earlier this week that Beijing is set to build facilities that would support freedom of navigation, search and rescue, and scientific research.

“Maybe we should ask: ‘For whom are those search and rescue facilities for? Is it for our ships and installations that they are threatening to destroy?'” Galvez said.

“They’ve said one thing and have done another,” the DND spokesman said, apparently referring to China’s project in Panganiban (Mischief) Reef.

It can be recalled that China once declared a construction on Panganiban (Mischief) Reef as a “shelter for fishermen,” though the facility turned into a garrison after a few years.

Aside from Panganiban, China has also done reclamation and construction works in six other reefs in the West Philippine Sea.

Last May, China announced that it will build lighthouses on Calderon (Cuarteron) and Mabini (Johnson South) Reefs — which are both inside the Philippines’ claim line — to “improve navigation safety.”

“Regardless of what supposedly ‘good’details the Chinese leadership informs the peace-focused and rules-based international community, they illegally and blatantly continue with their aggression. These are mere elements of their island building militarization which needs to stop and be dismantled,” Galvez said. (John Roson)

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Rear Admiral Caesar Taccad took over as Philippine Navy chief Aug. 10, 2015 (photo by author)

Rear Admiral Caesar Taccad took over as Philippine Navy chief Aug. 10, 2015 (photo by author)

Newly installed Navy chief Rear Admiral Caesar Taccad yesterday downplayed China’s military buildup in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) but stressed the need for more firepower for the force, considered as one of the weakest in the Asia-Pacific.

“We’ll come up with acquisitions of needed firepower, additional firepower for us to be able to deter any naval force that would try to stop us from employing our assets to assert soveriegnty over our waters,” Taccad told reporters.

Taccad made the remark when asked how the Philippine Navy will respond to China’s military buildup in the West Philippine Sea, given the former’s limited capabilities.

Rocket-armed versions of the Navy's new AW-109 helicopters (photo by author)

Rocket-armed versions of the Navy’s new AW-109 helicopters (photo by author)

“Kailangan natin ma-cover o ma-patrolya ang karagatan in order to impose that we have sovereignty over this sea,” he said.

Taccad, however, noted that the situation with China is not as threatening as before.

“Considering that it’s much heated before, I think we are in a better position now. We are communicating with China, and more or less not as threatened as before. You know what they are trying to do and we try to maintain more or less a peaceful coexistence or settlement of what issue we have,” he said.

BRP Ivatan, one of two landing craft heavy (LCH) ships donated by Australia, was christened ahead of Taccad's taking over of the Navy (photo by author)

BRP Ivatan, one of two landing craft heavy (LCH) ships donated by Australia, was christened ahead of Taccad’s taking over of the Navy (photo by author)

Taccad also said that he does not see China’s reclamation and construction works on seven reefs in the hotly-contested Kalayaan (Spratly) Island Group as an “expansion.”

“I dont see any expansion from China. They have been there for a long time and they are guarding what they think is their interest in the South China Sea… No expansion happening, they are just pursuing what they think is their interest,” he said.

President Benigno Aquino III installed Taccad as the 35th Navy chief, replacing Vice Admiral Jesus Millan who reached the compulsory retirement age of 56 yesterday.

Millan bid farewell to the force with a literary piece that used names of the nine Philippine-held territories in the Spratlys.

Taccad, on the other hand, vowed to transform the force into a “strong and formidable” Navy.

Before the turnover ceremony, the Navy held a “christening” for two landing craft heavy (LCH) ships donated by Australia and two rocket-armed AW-109 Power helicopters acquired from Anglo-Italian aircraft maker AugustaWestland. (John Roson)

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Poro Point, La Union – One of the US’ newest sealift vessels was not challenged by Chinese ships while heading to the port here for humanitarian activities, a ranking US military official said.

Captain James Meyer, commander of the Task Force Forager on board the USNS Millinocket, said they did not even see any Chinese ship while en route.

“Very well, uneventful, great voyage, no problems,” Meyer told reporters in a briefing Thursday.

Captain Joel Roos, surgeon of the US 7th Fleet, said even the commercial plane he rode from Japan was not challenged.

“I flew on a Philippine Airlines from Tokyo so if there was a challenge, it could be in the news right now,” Roos said in jest.

Reporters asked the US military officials if they experienced being challenged by Chinese ships while heading for La Union, a province facing the West Philippine Sea.

Last May, a Chinese warship told a US Navy Poseidon surveillance plane to leave while the latter was flying over those waters.

The incident was recorded and reported by international news network CNN, whose crew joined the flight.

The USNS Millinocket, a ship that can carry as many as a battalion of troops and entered service only in May 2014, arrived in Poro Point, San Fernando City, La Union, on Tuesday to serve as a secondary platform for the humantarian aid program Pacific Partnership.

Another ship, the floating hospital USNS Mercy, serves as the primary platform and is docked in Subic Bay, Zambales, which is also facing the West Philippine Sea.

Also docked in Subic Bay is the Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Chicago, who is in a visit to showcase the latest capabilities of the submarine fleet.

While the Millinocket, Mercy, and Chicago are all docked in the country, it was learned that several other US vessels were underway near the Philippines as August began.

Among them are the guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen and the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth, who were at the Philippine Sea and at the South China Sea, respectively, on August 1, according to information from the US Pacific Fleet website.

At the Pacific Partnership in La Union, a US medical task force will embark on technical exchanges and medical engagements, while Filipino and American troops are also set to build three two-room schoolhouses, conduct disaster preparedness seminars, and tabletop exercises that simulate disasters, Meyer said. (John Roson)

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Poro Point, La Union – The Navy has merged its two regional units guarding the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) to boost efficiency in handling maritime issues, a ranking official said Thursday.

Naval Forces West, whose area of operations includes the disputed Kalayaan (Spratly) Island Group, was merged with Naval Forces North, whose area covers Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, Captain Albert Mogol told reporters here.

The merger was a result of Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin’s directive of “addressing a common threat,” Mogol said.

The unified naval group, activated July 6, is now known as Naval Forces North-West.

It has its headquarters in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, and operates Task Force 41 from there, while Task Force 11 commanded by Mogol is based here.

Task Force 41 now handles all areas in the West Philippine Sea including Panatag Shoal, while Task Force 11 retained “traditional roles” like patrolling waters of Northern Luzon.

“It’s now the country’s biggest naval task force, [covering] five regions and 24 provinces,” Mogol said of Task Force 41.

Under one command, troops and ships can be easily sent to respond to incidents such as poachers operating off Luzon then speeding away towards Palawan.

“What we want is a more efficient command and control against a common threat,” Mogol said.

The official declined to reveal how many ships and troops are now under Naval Forces North-West, saying only that a “sufficient number” had been dedicated.

‘Eye in the north’

Meanwhile, Mogol said the Navy has also set up an identification system in Batanes to monitor foreign vessels entering the country.

Marines are manning the “littoral monitoring detachment,” which shares a building with the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration outpost since March, he said.

“We have already an eye in the north,” Mogol said, declining to give further details.

Maritime security issues in Batanes flared recently, after the Philippine Coast Guard said Taiwan counterparts engaged them in standoffs near the northern island province. (John Roson)

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The boom found off Zambales after it was towed to shore. (Coast Guard photos)

The boom found off Zambales after it was towed to shore. (Coast Guard photos)

(Updated 5 p.m. July 26) A long boom with what are believed to be Chinese markings was found floating near disputed waters off Zambales, authorities said.

The boom, measuring about 1 kilometer, was spotted around 3 p.m. Friday some 3 nautical miles (5.5 kilometers) west of Iba town, Lieutenant Commander Jonathan Marfil, head of the Coast Guard Station Subic, said.

Fishermen who saw the boom informed the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources which, in turn, reported to the nearest Coast Guard sub-station in Masinloc town, Marfil said.

The Masinloc Sub-Station asked fishermen to check, then at around 6 p.m., nine fishing bancas towed the boom towards Brgy. Sto. Rosario, Iba, Marfil said in an emailed report.

“Based on the statement of the fishermen, the floating object posed a hazard to navigation and was close to [a group of] corals,” he said.

Pictures obtained from Coast Guard Station Subic show that boom has a metal pipe connected by large orange floaters, and has what appear to be Chinese markings.

The pipe has a diameter of 1.5 meters while each floater has a diameter of 2 meters, according to Marfil’s report.

“Para siyang spill boom, parang pangharang ang porma… ‘Yung plastic na pangharang niya, orange. May Chinese na nakasulat,” a personnel at CGS-Subic said, when interviewed Saturday.

Authorities are still trying to determine where the boom came from, who brought it near Zambales, and why.

DND ‘disturbed’

Kids play on the boom found off Zambales after it was towed to shore. (Coast Guard photos)

Kids play on the boom found off Zambales after it was towed to shore. (Coast Guard photos)

The Department of National Defense, for its part, said it was “disturbed” over the boom’s discovery.

“This is a disturbing development, given that the booms were supposedly found well within our EEZ (exclusive economic zone),” DND spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said.

Iba is only one town away from Masinloc, the municipality which treats Panatag Shoal as part of its territory despite China’s occupation of the rocky outcrop.

“Hinihintay pa namin ang report kung saan galing itong floating object na ito,” Seaman 2nd Rio Omar, of CGS-Subic, said when asked if the boom could have come from Panatag.

China is presently occupying the shoal, which it calls “Huangyan Island,” and has been preventing the entry of Filipino fishermen with its law enforcement ships.

The occupation came after the 2012 standoff with the Philippine Navy, which tried to arrest Chinese poachers at the shoal, which Masinloc has been calling Bajo de Masinloc since the Spanish colonial period. (John Roson)

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A US Navy LCU participating in last April's Balikatan exercises in Zambales (photo by author)

A US Navy LCU participating in last April’s Balikatan exercises in Zambales (photo by author)

The Philippine Navy has received a landing ship donated by South Korea and is now repairing it ahead of deployments for post-disaster and military operations.

Navy chief Vice Admiral Jesus Millan said the landing craft utility (LCU) from South Korea arrived May 30 and is now at the naval shipyard in Cavite for “some machinery and equipment repairs.”

South Korea handed the vessel for free, along with 16 rubber boats, with the Navy paying only P16 million for the shipping cost, Millan said.

“It was shipped direct from Korea… We just paid for its shipping cost. It will be a big boost for HADR (humanitarian assistance and disaster relief) operations and troop transport,” he said in a text message.

US Navy LCU-1631 and USS Green Bay during April's Balikatan exercises in Zambales (photo by author)

US Navy LCU-1631 and USS Green Bay during April’s Balikatan exercises in Zambales (photo by author)

Current repairs are estimated to cost P26 million which, even if added to the shipping cost, is way lower than buying a brand new LCU for P6 billion, Millan said.

Before this, the Navy only had five LCUs, of which three are in operation and two are undergoing repairs, according to Millan.

The newly-arrived LCU has better capabilities than the ones already in the fleet because it is of a newer model, he said.

South Korea offered the LCU, rubber boats, and computers when Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin visited that country in June 2014.

US Navy LCU 1651 (photo from Wikipedia Commons)

US Navy LCU 1651 (photo from Wikipedia Commons)

South Korean officials said the offer — which came amid the Philippines’ territorial row with China in the West Philippine Sea — is for expressing their gratitude to Filipino soldiers’ role in the Korean War during the 1950s.

Following Gazmin’s visit to Seoul, the Department of Foreign Affairs said South Korea will also donate a “Pohang”-class corvette — a type of warship — to the Navy.

Government officials, however, have been mum on the corvette since then, as talk came out that China was “angered” by the offer and threatened to “unleash” North Korea against the South if it continues “arming” the Philippines. (John Roson)

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Members of the Philippine and Japanese navies will hold more trainings this month to beef up maritime awareness amid China’s continuing buildup in the region.

Colonel Edgard Arevalo, Philippine Navy spokesman, the trainings will be held when members of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) visit the country from June 22 to 26.

“The Philippine Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) are exploring areas of training and cooperation — among them humanitarian assistance and disaster response, maritime search and rescue, and maritime situational awareness… These are the activities lined up for the JMSDF visit,” he said.

Arevalo said a JMSDF aircraft will take part in the exercises but declined to reveal its type, as well as the area where the trainings will be held.

Japanese broadcaster NHK reported earlier that the JMSDF will send a P-3C Orion surveillance plane for the drills while the Philippine Navy is set to use a vessel and aircraft.

It said the exercises will be held in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Staff-to-staff talks will also be held to strengthen and institutionalize information-sharing in a bid to “step-up maritime situational awareness,” Arevalo said.

“This navy-to-navy engagement envisions to share new tactics, techniques, and procedures as well as best practices to further maritime operations,” he added.

This month’s drills come amid tensions stemming from China’s reclamation activities in the West Philippine Sea.

They will be the third between the Philippine and Japanese navies in just two years.

The two navies held “passing exercises” in parts of the West Philippine Sea off Palawan and Zambales provinces — where China has been building up its presence — on September 25, 2014 and last May 12, respectively.

The upcoming drills also come a week after President Benigno Aquino III and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed on a transfer of defense equipment and stronger cooperation between the two countries’ militaries.

Japan and the Philippines are presently locked in a common maritime dispute with China in the East Sea and West Philippine Sea, respectively. (John Roson)

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Pag-Asa (Thitu) Island. 2008 photo by author.

Pag-Asa (Thitu) Island. 2008 photo by author.

Residents in Pag-Asa (Thitu) Island have started promoting the island as a tourist destination amid tension among countries claiming the Kalayaan (Spratly) Island Group in the West Philippine Sea.

Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez, chief of the Armed Forces’ Western Command, confirmed that the tourism campaign has started albeit at a small scale, and said the military stands ready to help.

“We can help organize tour packages,” Lopez told reporters in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan.

Lopez made the remark after visiting Pag-Asa Island with Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Pio Catapang, other military officials, and reporters last Monday.

During the visit, reporters saw some residents of Pag-Asa — where only fish was peddled before — selling souvenir shirts promoting the island as a tourist spot.

White shirts printed with beaches, starfishes, aerial pictures of Pag-Asa, and other Philippine-occupied territories in the Spratlys are being sold at the Kalayaan municipal hall for P280.

One resident also makes “tuba” (coconut wine) and offers this for P75 a liter to visitors.

Such merchandise were not seen on the island before, until China boosted its presence in the West Philippine Sea.

Reclamation and construction on China-held Subi Reef as seen from Pag-Asa. Photo by author.

Reclamation and construction on China-held Subi Reef as seen from Pag-Asa. 2015 photo by author.

Chinese warships and Coast Guard vessels are frequently seen in the disputed waters while construction and reclamation works are ongoing in China-held features including Subi (Zamora) Reef, which is only about 25 kilometers from Pag-Asa.

Residents said they have also been seeing Vietnamese fishing vessels straying near Pag-Asa — particularly at a reef to the island’s east and a sandbar to the north — and carry out dynamite fishing.

Lopez said the military cannot “actually escort” tourists to Pag-Asa because that’s not in its mandate, though helping arrange tours is allowable.

In his visit, Catapang said the military will “reinforce” tourism efforts, though securing visitors would be a joint effort with Coast Guard and local government agencies because Pag-Asa is in “internal waters.”

Tours could be extended to the other Philippine-occupied islands Patag (Flat), Kota (Loaita), Panata (Lankiam), Lawak (Nanshan), Likas (West York), and even Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, he added.

Kalayaan Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon said the tourism campaign will go full scale “next year” after the town buys a 25-meter steel-hulled boat for P10 million.

The Pag-Asa airstrip's western edge. 2015 photo by author.

The Pag-Asa airstrip’s western edge. 2015 photo by author.

The boat project, which is aimed at ferrying visitors from a jump-off station from mainland Palawan, comes while the government has yet to repair the airstrip on Pag-Asa.

A chunk of the 1.3-kilometer airstrip’s western edge has eroded into the sea, though small aircraft and military planes can still land.

A “pasalubong” (souvenir) shop and lodge will also be opened on Pag-Asa to cater to tourists, Bito-onon said. (John Roson)

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Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Friday directed military pilots to continue patrols over the West Philippine Sea despite China’s challenging of Philippine planes.

Gazmin gave the order after expressing concern that China appears to be already practicing an “air defense identification zone,” or ADIZ, over the disputed waters.

“Ito ay cause for concern sapagkat parang pina-practice ng China na mayroon nang ADIZ although wala pang formal declaration,” Gazmin said during a briefing of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

“Ang directive natin ay continue ‘yung kanilang (pilots) normal na trabaho, hindi dapat natatakot sa mga babalang ganito,” he added.

The defense chief’s remarks came after Armed Forces Western Command chief Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez told a Senate hearing Thursday that China warned Air Force and Navy planes at least six times to leave areas around the West Philippine Sea.

“They are acting as if they already have an ADIZ in the area,” defense department spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said Thursday night.

China first declared an ADIZ over the East China Sea in November 2013, covering a group of islets occupied by Japan.

It demanded that all countries with aircraft passing through the zone submit flight plans, or otherwise face “defensive measures.”

The move caused a stir not only in Japan but also in the Philippines, whose exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the west covers some islands and reefs being claimed by China.

Officials expressed concern that China might next declare an ADIZ over the West Philippine Sea, including territories which the Philippines has been occupying for decades.

China’s challenging of Philippine military planes, done via radio, were reported after Manila released aerial photos showing Beijing’s reclamation and construction works on some reefs in the disputed waters.

Last March 30, Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Pio Catapang said China has stepped up construction and reclamation on at least seven reefs, including three that are inside the Philippines’ EEZ.

Gazmin said the DND has already reported its observations to the proper agency and will continue to monitor China’s activities. (John Roson)

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