MANILA — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday said the Chinese-marked ocean-bottom seismograph (OBS) a fisherfolk group found at the Pangasinan side of the West Philippine Sea in July was just a buoy.
A buoy is a floating object anchored at a definite location to guide or warn mariners. It is also used to mark positions of submerged objects.
On July 22, a fisherman who is a member of the Bigkis ng Mangingisda, discovered the device off the waters of Infanta, Pangasinan. The device bore Chinese characters that provided contact details and promised a reward for finders.
The group turned over the OBS to the Philippine Navy. Lorenzana then gave the device to the Department of Science and Technology for further assessment.
Earlier this month, the Bigkis ng Mangingisda called on the Department of National Defense (DND) to release the result of its investigation into the matter and the information contained in the instrument.
"Sa pagkakasuri ng Navy, hindi naman ito monitoring kasi walang laman na electronics equipment. Suspetsa ng Navy, buoys lang ito, markers, na naputol sa kanilang anchor at napadpad dito," Lorenzana told reporters in a virtual press conference.
"In-inspect nila ang loob Wala namang equipment na electronics na pwedeng gamitin sa pag-monitor. Two weeks ago pa nila sinabi ang findings," he added.
Lorenzana did not give a clear answer when asked if he thinks China intentionally installed the buoys, but said it could just be a coincidence.
"Hindi natin alam saan galing. Baka napadpad lang sa dalampasigan. Maaaring galing 'yan sa area nila sa South China Sea, wala sa West Philippine Sea. Ang current ng dagat, mabilis at malakas. Hindi natin pwedeng sabihin na 'yun ay nilagay nila sa ating territory para markahan, kundi pwedeng galing sa ibang lugar na 'di natin sakop," he said.
A United Nations-backed court in 2016 junked Beijing's claims to almost the entire South China Sea, within which is the smaller West Philippine Sea.
The Hague court also said China had interfered with traditional Philippine fishing rights at Scarborough Shoal and breached the country's sovereign rights by exploring for oil and gas near the Reed Bank.
Beijing snubs the ruling.
President Rodrigo Duterte has since refused to press China to follow the ruling, as he pursued investments and loans from the economic superpower.
In May, Duterte called the arbitral award a scrap of "paper" that belongs to the wastebasket. But that same month, he said he would not withdraw Philippine ships from the waterway.