Photos show China’s massive construction, runway on PH reef

Carmela Fonbuena

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Photos show China’s massive construction, runway on PH reef
China ignores a ruling of the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration that declared Mischief Reef a part of the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone

MANILA, Philippines – China continued massive construction on Panganiban (Mischief) Reef off the coast of Palawan to build facilities and a runway despite a 2016 international court ruling that categorically declared the maritime feature as part of the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Close-up aerial photos obtained by the Philippine Daily Inquirer show a concrete runway, two radomes for radar equipment, two hangars, and a control tower on the reclaimed reef in the Spratlys in the West Philippine Sea, one of 7 maritime features that China reclaimed in recent years. 

Military ships and cargo vessels used to transport construction materials also littered waters inside and outside the reef. The photos were taken between June and December 2017.

The United Nations-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Haque ruled in July 2016 that the reef was inside the 200-nautical-mile EEZ of the Philippines. It said China’s actions were clear violations of the country’s sovereignty. (READ: HIGHLIGHTS OF THE RULING: China violated PH sovereign rights)

The ruling came out during the first month of President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañang. He shifted government policy in the disputed waters to set aside the international court ruling in favor of warmer relations with China.

The Duterte administration boasted about how Filipino fishermen have been able to return to their traditional fishing grounds in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off the coast of Zambales. Investments from China also poured in.

Still, there were reports of harassment against Filipino fishermen in Panatag and not too many of them have supposedly been encouraged to return. 

Mischief Reef is strategically located militarily. A former chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) had warned that China’s occupation could make it difficult for the country to access certain areas inside its EEZ.

MISCHIEF REEF IN 2015. The Philippine military first warned against the reclamation of Mischief Reef back in 2015.

In 2015, when reclamation was just starting on Mischief Reef, former AFP chief retired General Gregoria Catapang Jr called on China to stop its activities. (READ: China reclamation may cut PH access to West PH Sea)

“Our biggest problem now is Mischief (Panganiban) Reef. It threatens all our areas including the Ayungin Shoal,” Catapang said then, presenting a map that showed the proximity of Mischief Reef to areas that the Philippines occupies.

Mischief Reef is only 23 nautical miles away from Ayungin Shoal, where the Philippines grounded a World War II warship that now serves as a naval post for Philippine Marines guarding the Philippine territory. 

The international court ruling also declared Ayungin Shoal to be inside the Philippine EEZ. In a standoff in 2014, China attempted to block a Philippine ship that sought to bring troops and supplies to Ayungin Shoal. Reporters from local and international media organizations were among the passengers of the Philippine ship. 

2016 PHOTO. Structures seen In a satellite image of Mischief Reef on November 15, 2016, released December 13, 2016. Image courtesy of CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe

The Philippine Daily Inquirer also published close-up photos showing China’s massive construction on two other Philippine-claimed reefs that host runways – Zamora (Subi) Reef and Kagitingan (Fiery Cross Reef).

Zamora Reef is located less than 20 nautical miles from the Philippine-occupied Pag-asa (Thitu) Island, where about a hundred Filipino civilians reside. 

The US-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative tagged these reefs as China’s “Big Three”.

Meanwhile, the Philippines continues to suffer delays in repairing its only runway in the West Philippine Sea amid protests from China. (READ: PH gears again to fix runway in West PH Sea island after delays–

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