Tag Archive: territorial dispute

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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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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Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Japan Defense Minister Gen Nakatani signing a memorandum on defense cooperation. (Japan MoD photo)

Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Japan Defense Minister Gen Nakatani signing a memorandum on defense cooperation. (Japan MoD photo)

The Philippines submitted to Japan a list of defense equipment that it plans to acquire from the latter, amid the two countries’ common maritime dispute with China.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin confirmed the list’s submission Monday, after returning from Japan where he met with his counterpart Defense Minister Gen Nakatani.

“Lahat ng magagamit to address our maritime security (Everything we can use to address our maritime security),” Gazmin said in a text message, when asked what items were on the list.

The list covers equipment for capabilities in ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance), HADR (humanitarian and disaster response), and lift, defense department spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said for his part.

Last January 31, the Department of National Defense and Japan’s Ministry of Defense issued a statement, saying Gazmin and Nakatani signed a “Memorandum on Defense Cooperation and Exchanges.”

In the memorandum, the defense chiefs “concurred” on, among others, “to explore a possibility of cooperation in the area of defense equipment and technology.”

The two countries “will start working-level discussions” on the matter, according to the statement.

‘Rare agreement’

“This is a very rare occassion, if not the first, [for] the Japanese to sign such a memorandum,” Galvez said.

The memorandum came months after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration re-interpreted Japan’s war-renouncing Constitution in July 2014.

The Constitution, enacted in 1947 after Japan’s involvement in World War II, was re-interpreted to allow the country to protect itself thru a “collective” defense with allies.

Japan also adopted what it calls the “Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology” in April 2014.

Navy list

The Philippine Navy submitted to the DND a list of assets that it plans to acquire from Japan on December 26, spokesman Colonel Edgard Arevalo said Monday.

The force is looking at a possible acquisition of patrol vessels from Japan, Navy vice commander Rear Admiral Caesar Taccad said on December 17.

Humanitarian and disaster response equipment like transport ships and sea planes are also in the list, Arevalo said on December 22.

Common sea problems

Japan’s re-interpretation of its Constitution followed China’s deployment of Coast Guard ships and establishment of an “air defense identification zone” (ADIZ) in an area encompassing the Japan-occupied Senkaku Islands.

China lays claim to those islands and calls them “Diaoyu Islands.”

China has also been deploying Coast Guard ships around Philippine-occupied parts of the Kalayaan (Spratly) Islands Group off Palawan and the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Zambales, areas which they are now preventing Filipino fishermen from entering.

China claims all of the Spratly Islands, which it calls “Nansha Islands,” and Scarborough Shoal, which it calls “Huangyan Island.”

Capability building

During their meeting, Gazmin and Nakatani also agreed on having the Japan Self -Defense Forces (JSDF) help the Armed Forces of the Philippines build capabilities in humanitarian and disaster response (HADR).

“As a part of this project, they (JSDF) will conduct capacity building assistance in the area of air transportation to the members of PAF (Philippine Air Force) in 2015,” according to the defense chiefs’ statement.

The PAF, on the other hand, will try to participate in future versions of “Cope North,” the multilateral combat-readiness and HADR exercise annually conducted by Japan, the U.S., Australia, and other allies off Guam.

The Philippine Navy, meanwhile, will conduct bilateral naval training with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force this year “to promote cooperation in maritime security,” according to the statement. (John Roson)

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The Philippines has observed an advancement in China’s reclamation at a territory in the disputed West Philippine (South China) Sea and is alarmed over the development, Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said Wednesday.

“About 50 percent na tapos na sila, it’s alarming in the sense that it could be used for purposes other than peaceful use,” Catapang told reporters.

“Mayroong isang nire-reclaim na mahaba-haba, about 1 point something or 2 kilometers. Di pa siya developed as an airfield, pero at that span it could be,” the military chief said.

Catapang made the remarks after coming from a command conference with other ranking officers of the Armed Forces in Camp Aguinaldo.

“We continue to monitor what’s happening in the West Philippine Sea, we are appraised on the situation. We know there is still ongoing reclamation,” he said.

The military chief did not specify which territories in the disputed waters are being reclaimed.

Last September, Catapang said in a media forum that reclamations were observed in two reefs in the Kalayaan (Spratly) Island Group.

One of these was on Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef, which is inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, he said.

Last May, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said reclamation was also observed on Mabini (Johnson South) Reef, where Philippine authorities believe China could be building a “base.”

Meanwhile, Catapang also revealed on Wednesday that the military continues to spot Chinese ships in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, another feature in the West Philippine Sea.

The Philippines is still waiting for the decision of the United Nations’ International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea on the case it filed against China’s claims in the disputed waters, he said. (John Roson)

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Newly-installed Armed Forces chief Lt. Gen. Gregorio Catapang said the military will find ways to continue resupply missions to Philippine-held territories amid China’s tightening of security in the West Philippine (South China) Sea, but will not be “provocative.”

“Our last resupply was very smooth, we hope that the next will be the same. We are continuously monitoring the situation. We will maintain our presence there, we will find ways and means to continue resupply missions,” Catapang said in a briefing Friday.

Catapang made the remark when asked on what the military will do to ensure that other Philippine-held territories will not be sealed off like Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal and heavily-guarded like Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.

Catapang was also asked if the military has monitored Chinese plans to bring an oil rig to Recto (Reed) Bank off Palawan, like what happened in waters off Vietnam.

“As of now we have not monitored any movement of an oil rig,” he said.

Catapang assured that the Philippines will not lose Reed Bank and other Philippine-held territories, but vowed not to be “provocative.”

“We will maintain our diplomacy. We will not be provocative so that there will be no unintentional shooting in the area,” he said.

Catapang held the briefing shortly after being installed by President Benigno Aquino as new Armed Forces chief, in place of retired Gen. Emmanuel Bautista. (John Roson)

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A satellite image of Pag-Asa Island with the Rancudo Air Field. (Google Earth image)

A satellite image of Pag-Asa Island with the Rancudo Air Field. (Google Earth image)

The Philippines is set to start a project aimed at repairing its airstrip in the Kalayaan (Spratly) Island Group soon, despite China’s objections, military officials said Wednesday.

Funds are now available to repair eroded portions of the Rancudo Airfield on Pag-Asa (Thitu) Island, Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Delgado said.

“Nagkaroon lang ng mga hitches during the previous years, may time na kinulang ‘yung funds, but now may pondo na naman, we need to repair that,” Delgado said in a press briefing.

Portions of the 1.4-kilometer airstrip, which was built way back in the 1970s, have been “eroded by seawater,” Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Enrico Canaya said.

Last December, the Department of National Defense showed reporters a presentation saying that P479.750 million had been alloted for the project on Pag-Asa under the Armed Forces Modernization Law of 1995, and the project was already undergoing bidding.

Maj. Gen. Edgar Fallorina, Air Force chief of staff, said a company has already won the bid for the project’s first stage, which will be overseen by the Navy and would involve “dredging.”

“That’s for the preparation alone [of] the island, so that construction materials can come in… Hopefully, it will be finished this year,” he said.

The Air Force will implement second stage, which is the repair of the airstrip itself, he said.

On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying accused the Philippines of “illegally and forcefully” occupying territories in the Kalayaan Islands, which China calls Nansha.

Hua also demanded that the Philippines withdraw its facilities and personnel from the islands, as well as stop “provocations” like the airstrip project, despite Beijing’s continuing constructions.

Fallorina said the project will push through as the government had already given it the green light.

“It’s a project under and sanctioned by the Department of National Defense. So far it’s a go, no complaints, no problems,” he said. (John Roson)

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As much as 12 Chinese ships have been monitored in the West Philippine (South China) Sea as China continues to strengthen its presence in the area, military officials said Wednesday.

There have been times that 10 to 12 ships were monitored, though sometimes there are only three or four, Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Delgado said in a press briefing.

“The number changes from time to time, probably it depends on the level of activities that they are pursuing,” he said.

Major General Edgar Fallorina, Air Force chief of staff, said it was hard to determine how many activities the Chinese are conducting, but was clear that these have intensified.

“If they are just having their structures before, right now they are trying to improve those structures,” he said.

Last month, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said China was monitored to have been conducting reclamation activities, apparently to build a “base,” in Mabini (Johnson South) Reef.

Similar activities have also been monitored in Calderon (Cuarteron) and Gaven Reefs, according to the government.

“Right now they are doing some dredging so by that observation alone you’ll probably come up with your own conclusion what they intend to do. In short, they are trying to improve their presence,” Fallorina said.

Colonel Florante Falsis, deputy assistant chief of air staff for intelligence, said they are now monitoring other areas for Chinese construction activities.

Monitoring is now “concentrated” at Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) and Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, he said. (John Roson)

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Navy servicemen of the Philippines are set to arrive in one of the Kalayaan (Spratly) Islands occupied by Vietnam today (June 8) for “friendly games” with their counterparts, Philippine Navy spokesman Cmdr. Gregory Fabic said.

A “platoon-size” contingent, or about 30 personnel, from the Philippines will participate in the games, Fabic said by phone Saturday.

The games, Fabic noted, will not pit one country against another and won’t grant awards.

Lineups for the games, which include football, will be a “mix” of Filipino and Vietnamese players, he said.

“Ang maganda dito is hindi country-versus-country ang laban, just like the goodwill games we have with the US and other friendly countries,” Fabic said.

“There will also be cultural activities. It will only be a one-day affair,” he said.

Volleyball and tug-of-war will also be played, Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda, commander of the Armed Forces Western Command, said in a mobile-phone message earlier.

The games will be held on Pugad Island or Southwest Cay, which was previously occupied by the Philippines and now by Vietnam. (John Roson)

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Navy servicemen of the Philippines and Vietnam are set to hold friendly games in one of the disputed Kalayaan (Spratly) Islands of the West Philippine (South China) Sea on June 8, a military official said Wednesday.

“There will be football, volleyball, and tug-of-war,” Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda, commander of the Armed Forces’ Western Command, said in a mobile-phone message.

The games are scheduled to be held on Pugad Island or Southwest Cay, which was previously occupied by the Philippines and now by Vietnam, Capt. Cherryl Tindog, the command’s spokesperson, said by phone.

Navy personnel from both countries will participate in the games, which is an implementation of a previously-signed memorandum of agreement, she said.

“The games will push through. At this stage, only inclement weather can stop the event,” another military official said. (John Roson)

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