Duterte backed off sand bar row with China: defense chief

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 08 2017 02:00 PM | Updated as of Nov 08 2017 02:21 PM

MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte halted the construction of huts for Filipino fishermen on disputed sandbars in August, his defense minister said Wednesday, averting a possible standoff with China.

China complained that the Philippines was violating an agreement not to occupy new features, said Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

He said the military planned to put up makeshift shelters for its fishermen on Sandy Cay, a group of sandbars located around 2.5 miles from the Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island.

“The Chinese reacted and so the President came to know about this and he said let’s pull out,” he told a security forum in Makati City. “We left and… the tension lowered again.”

Associate Justice Antonio Carpio earlier warned about the presence of Chinese vessels in Sandy Cay, saying the deployment could be tantamount to an “invasion.”

Lorenzana said China was not necessarily “guarding” the area, noting only the presence of its own fishermen there during the dispute. He said neither Filipino nor Chinese fishermen were now in the area.

“Wala na. Walang tao. (There's no one there.) Either side,” he said.

Earlier this week, China’s state media reported the deployment of its new dredger, stoking fears of even more land reclamation in the disputed South China Sea.

“Kung mag-launch sila sa China ng dredger, wala tayong pakialam,” Lorenzana said. “Once it approaches our territory, saka tayo mag-react.”

(If China launches a dredger, that's none of our business. Once it approaches our territory, we will react.)