MANILA, Philippines - The government is prepared to take the necessary actions in response to China’s expanded activities in the West Philippine Sea, but would make sure these would not further inflame tensions in the region even in the face of provocations from Beijing, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said over radio dzRB yesterday.
President Aquino bared on Thursday that Chinese ships with the equipment and capability to reclaim land were spotted in Gaven Reef and Calderon (Cuarteron) Reef in the Spratlys.
He said the ships might be preparing to undertake further reclamation work on the reefs, like what they did on Mabini Reef also in the Spratlys.
Valte said there are many ways to show the country’s determination to defend its territory when asked about Vietnam’s response to China’s deployment of a giant oil rig in the disputed Paracel Islands.
A Vietnamese boat sent to stop the Chinese from parking the rig was rammed and sank by a larger Chinese vessel. The incident sparked anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam.
China is also said to be reclaiming Malvar Reef based on a report from the military, which took photographs of China’s activities in February.
The photos showed a backhoe attached to a Chinese vessel and a report quoted Defense spokesman Peter Galvez as saying China had reclaimed land on Malvar (Eldad) Reef, situated northeast of Mabini (Johnson) Reef.
Asked about a possible military response, Valte reiterated the Philippines’ chosen track was “not (to) respond to provocative action” and to “always exhaust the diplomatic channels, as well as other legal means that can help us address this particular issue.”
Valte said there was also no confirmation yet if indeed China was reclaiming land on Gaven Reef and Calderon Reef.
“Those are two completely different things but as far as the information that we have, that is of course being assessed by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to determine what the next step should be, in light of the fact that we have already filed our memorial before the arbitral tribunal,” Valte said.
She also said the Philippines is cognizant of the environmental costs of Chinese poaching activities in the West Philippine Sea.
“We will have to take that into consideration in the discussions leading up to what the next step will be. Of course, we share the concern of stakeholders, especially since we seek to really preserve our seas and marine resources,” she said.
On Indonesia’s reported proposal for foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to meet on the West Philippine Sea dispute, Valte said she would have to check with the DFA if there were any discussions on the issue.
Meanwhile, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said China’s claim of sovereignty over almost the entire South China and West Philippine Sea “is an egregious lie, inconsistent with historical facts and its pronouncement.”
Carpio issued the statement recently in a speech he delivered before the Philippine Women Judges Association and uploaded on social media by former National Security adviser and congressman Roilo Golez.
“The real unvarnished historical facts in the South China Sea are quite different from what China has claimed them to be. Despite its name, which was given by European explorers and cartographers, the South China Sea was never the sole domain of China or any one country,” Carpio said.
He said China’s occupation of Panatag Shoal in 2012 and the Panganiban Reef in 1995 could be considered acts of aggression.
Panatag Shoal is within the territorial waters of Zambales while Panganiban Reef is close to mainland Palawan.