MANILA - Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio on Friday warned that Subi Reef (Zamora Reef) in the disputed Spratly Islands could soon see bombers and fighter jets landing on its runway.
The magistrate, a foremost advocate of the Philippines' claims in the South China Sea, said this in light of a recent report that the island is now home to a small town with "sports grounds, neat roads, and large civic buildings," and could possibly host China's first troops in the area.
Carpio told reporters that the presence of military-grade runways, hangars, hardened storage for ammunition, and retractable roofs for anti-cruise missiles in Chinese military installations in the South China Sea all point to the presence of fighter jets and bombers in the near future.
"What will they do with close-in weapons if not to protect valuable aircraft? All military analysts agree that China will bring their fighter jets and bombers," he said on the sidelines of a special exhibit of the Murillo-Velarde 1734 Map at the Manila Polo Club in Makati City.
The map was among the close to 300 ancient maps the Philippines submitted to the United Nations arbitral tribunal in pursuing its case against China's expansive claims to the South China Sea.
The tribunal invalidated China's nine-dash line claim in a landmark ruling in July 2016, which Beijing has ignored as it stepped up island-building and reclamation efforts.
"They will not store them there for a long time because of the salt water but they will be there," said Carpio, who was guest speaker at the event.
Carpio said developments at the Subi Reef pose a threat to Philippine-controlled Pag-asa Island, which is only 26 kms away.
He said China's development of aerial and naval bases in the South China Sea is meant to enforce its nine-dash line claim over nearly all of the waters.
NEED FOR URGENT ACTION
Carpio warned that the Philippines' failure to protest China's actions might be seen as acquiescence and a waiver of our claims to areas within our exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
"There is an urgency to preserve our rights under the ruling. That means we have to file a protest. If the present administration doesn't want to do anything beyond that, well that's their preprogative, but at least, they must preserve our claims under the ruling to enable the next administration to enforce it," he said.
The administration has pursued stronger economic ties with China while opting to restart dialogue in hopes of settling the South China Sea dispute.
Recently, President Rodrigo Duterte said he would want to assert the country's rights of its EEZ but conceded that he "cannot afford at this time to go to war," warning of a "great loss."
Carpio said the government must rethink its reliance on China for infrastructure and economic support, if that comes at the expense of our claims in the West Philippine Sea.
"How much are we getting from China? $24 billion in loans with interest? The resources of our EEZ are worth far more than that. No comparison," he said.
"The West Philippine Sea is 376,000 sqm in area. It is larger than our total land area. It has fish, oil and other resources for the future generation. Nobody has a right to give that up."