MANILA -- Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio on Wednesday said China may also reclaim Scarborough Shoal, or Panatag Shoal, off the coast of Zambales, as part of its grand plan to gain full control of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
"I think China will soon reclaim Scarborough Shoal, to put up an air and naval base to protect their outlet in the Bashi Channel," said Carpio during a forum on the West Philippine Sea in Camp Aguinaldo.
Carpio was among the officials who attended the oral arguments by an arbitral court at The Hague, where the Philippines has lodged a complaint against China's claim before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.
"They have to cross the Bashi Channel and they have to protect this because the nuclear arms submarines of China, their missiles have a range of only 7,500 kilometers," Carpio said, adding that Chinese submarines are based in Hainan.
"They have to fire in the mid Pacific to reach the continental USA. They must cross the Bashi Channel. Maybe 10 years from now, the range of their missiles in their submarines will be longer and they can fire it from South China. But as of now, they cannot do that. They have really to protect this (channel)," he explained.
China gained control of the Scarborough Shoal following a standoff with Philippine vessels in April 2012. The shoal used to be a target of bombing drills by US and Filipino aircraft when the Americans still had bases in the Philippines.
Carpio said China now has air bases in the newly reclaimed Subi and Fiery Cross reefs. The two are among the seven reefs China has reclaimed.
"And they will put one in Scarborough shoal, that's my assessment. So they will have three air bases, triangle of airbases. They will enforce an air defense ID (identification) zone in the South China Sea," he said.
"China's grand design is to control the South China Sea for economic and military purposes. China wants all the fisheries, oil, gas and mineral resources within the nine-dash line (of China)," the official also said.
"China is the largest fishing fleet in the world with 70,000 boats. South China Sea is small for them so they have been going even to the coast of Africa. China is the largest net importer of petroleum in the world. They have to get petroleum, otherwise their economy (will suffer)," Carpio added.
When asked to comment on the issue, AFP chief Gen. Hernando Iriberri said the military will protect the Philippine territory, in keeping with its mandate under the Constitution.
"Our mandate is very clear under the Constitution - to protect our people, secure the sovereignty and the integrity of the national territory. We will do that, that is our job…We will perform hat is mandated of us," he said.
He also noted that that Scarborough Shoal is well within the country's 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
"It's ours, it's very clear," he said.
Last week, fishermen recovered a 1,000-meter buoy, with Chinese markings, about three miles west off Iba, Zambales. Iriberri said the military is trying to find out where the buoy came from.
"We have to check what is that for, was it for dredging or was it a boom. There have been reports that it could have been used for dredging but coming from where? We have yet to establish that," he said.
Iriberri also said they have yet to confirm what Carpio has said regarding the dredging activities of the Chienes.
Meanwhile, Navy Civil Military Operations Group Chief and concurrent spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo cited the importance of maintaining the Navy's presence at the Ayungin Shoal. Troops occupying the shoal are staying at the grounded BRP Sierra Madre which is now deteriorating.
"Ayungin Shoal marks our last stand in physical terms at the West Philippine Sea. If it should ever (fall) to enemy actions and subsequently occupied, the rest of our islets, including Pagasa Island, would become irrelevant," he said.