MANILA, Philippines — A second reconnaisance flight by the Philippine Navy shows China has placed at least 75 concrete blocks in the disputed Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Zambales.
“There are approximately 75 concrete blocks scattered in a 2-hectare area in the northern portion of Bajo de Masinloc. Each block would be approximately 2 feet by 2 feet,” defense spokesperson Peter Galvez told reporters on Wednesday, September 4.
“These are blocks. They can be easily dropped off from any platform,” Galvez added. “These can be used to be platforms or foundations. That is why we said earlier it can be a prelude to any form of construction,” he added.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin initially reported 30 concrete blocks based on a reconnaisance flight conducted August 31. Galvez said it’s possible all 75 were there as early as the first reconnaisance flgiht but were not monitored.
Three Chinese coast guard ships are also circling the shoal.
Bajo de Masinloc has been renamed Panatag. It is located 124 nautical miles from Zambales, within the country’s 200-NM exclusive economic zone. China claims practically all of South China Sea.
Panatag is a rocky sandbar, but its location holds huge political and economic significance. Located in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), it is a strategic staging area for military operations. Scientists are also optimistic about the area’s potential oil resources.
“We are coordinating with the DFA for our necessary action,” said Galvez. He said the government does not want a “repeat” of what happened to Mischief Reef, now occupied by the Chinese.
“It’s in the interest of the country that it doesn’t happen that way,” Galvez said.
Defense officials would not say if there are fresh instructions given to the Philippine Navy given the development. Malacañang called a full Cabinet meeting.
“We have to stay on track with what our government is doing right now,” said Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs chief Lt Col Ramon Zagala.
“As far as the AFP is concerned, our task there is to monitor activities in the area. We did that. We transmitted such information to pertinent government agencies,” said Zagala.
“Our government is pursuing a peaceful solution through arbitration. The AFP will follow whatever the leadership of our government says, especially our commander-in-chief,” Zagala added.
The Philippines has lodged a protest against China before the UN’s International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.