Malacañang says no more Chinese flag near Kota Island

Pia Ranada
Malacañang says no more Chinese flag near Kota Island

Bea Cupin

(UPDATED) Philippine Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella says he got this assurance from a 'reliable source'

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Malacañang has received assurances that no Chinese flag flies over a sandbar near Philippine-controlled Kota Island in the West Philippine Sea.

“I inquired about that and apparently, as of this stage, there is no flag,” said Philippine Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella on Thursday, August 24, during a Palace briefing.

He said a “reliable” source, who he refused to name, relayed this.

“According to a source I referred to, there was none, there were no flags at that time,” Abella told reporters.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman was responding to a claim made by an opposition lawmaker, Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano, that a Chinese flag was planted by Chinese civilians in a cay 7 nautical miles from Kota Island.

The 3-meter-high Chinese flag was supposedly discovered around the 3rd week of July 2017.

But Abella sought to downplay the issue, saying most of the ships that pass through this part of the West Philippine Sea are civilian, not military.

“It seems the place in itself is subject to many passers-through and, in fact, there are evidence of people who do park there, and mainly these are not military, but mainly these are citizens,” he said, but added that this information is “not verified.”

The cay where the flag was supposedly planted is close to Kota Island which is part of the Kalayaan Islands, controlled by the Philippines. It is also being claimed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

Alejano said the report about the flag justifies concerns that “Chinese activities in the West Philippine Sea have not stopped amid warmer relations between the Philippines and China.”

There were also recent reports of at least two Chinese ships that appeared to be fishing near Pag-asa Island, another Philippine-controlled island being claimed by Beijing.

According to Washington-based think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, the presence of these ships is “highly provocative.”

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said the presence of the ships was tantamount to invasion and called on Duterte to defend Philippine claims.

But Duterte said he does not consider the incident as invasion, adding that he had received assurance from China that they would not build anything in the area or stop Filipino fishermen from fishing there.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano also criticized Carpio for supposedly using the “wrong facts.” Cayetano, however, refused to disclose the facts about the Chinese ships reportedly guarding Sandy Cay. – Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.