PH shows ‘destabilizing’ China moves in Spratlys

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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(UPDATED) Before-and-after photos of China's 'extensive reclamation' in the disputed West Philippine Sea show its violation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea

BEFORE RECLAMATION. This is Mabini (Johnson) Reef in the West Philippine Sea before China began to build its suspected airstrip. Photo courtesy of DFA

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Philippines released photos on Thursday, May 15, to prove China’s “destabilizing” moves in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) involving the rising superpower’s suspected airstrip construction in the disputed area.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) released the photos – which it said were “gathered from Philippine intelligence sources” – depicting China’s construction activities on Mabini (Johnson) Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands over a span of two years, or from March 2012 to March 2014.

These actions are considered destabilizing and in violation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and international law.  Mabini Reef is part of the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) which is part of Philippine territory,” the DFA said in a statement.

(Watch the report below)


Dated March 13, 2012, the first photo depicts a site that is mostly a blue sea.

In the two succeeding photos – dated February 28, 2013 and February 25, 2014 – construction and reclamation activities are gradually seen. 

GRADUAL CONSTRUCTION. The Philippines monitors Mabini (Johnson) Reef again on February 28, 2013. Photo courtesy of DFA

A YEAR LATER. China's construction activities become more apparent on February 25, 2014. Photo courtesy of DFA

The last photo, dated March 11, 2014, shows a huge patch of reclaimed land – the subject of the Philippines’ latest protest that China rejected.

The Philippine intelligence sources “found out about this reclamation work when they were helping look for the missing Malaysian Airlines plane in the South China Sea,” DFA spokesman Charles Jose said in a media briefing Thursday.

“Judging from the other structures put up by China in the South China Sea, we can safely presume they’re for military purposes,” Jose added.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario had said it is “one possibility” that China is building an airstrip.

‘Violating international law’

The reclamation site measures around 30 hectares, a senior diplomat told the Associated Press.

In its statement, the DFA said China’s “extensive reclamation” on Mabini Reef breaks a key regional declaration, signed by the Philippines and China, and other ASEAN member-nations, in 2002.

'30 HECTARES.' The Philippines slams China for its 'excessive reclamation' as shown in this photo dated March 11, 2014. Photo courtesy of DFA

This is the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which states: “The parties undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features, and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.”

During Thursday’s media briefing, Jose added that the reclamation activities show China is “inconsistent.”

China, after all, also accused the Philippines of violating the DOC. 

Jose pointed out that China had falsely accused the Philippines of trying to “reinforce and improve our facilities” in the disputed Ayungin Shoal. “It turns out, sila pala ‘yung may ginagawang reclamation work sa Mabini Reef,” he said. (It turns out, it’s they who are doing reclamation work on Mabini Reef.)

Aquino: Focused on COC, arbitration

In a news conference in San Carlos City, Negros Occidental, President Benigno Aquino III said the Philippines will focus on forging a binding Code of Conduct in the West Philippine Sea between the Philippines and the ASEAN and its arbitration case against China.

Aquino was not asked about the Mabini Reef issue but on the worsening territorial row between China and Vietnam, and whether the PH-US Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) would help deter a similar situation in the case of the Philippines.

“Instead of making predictions on what might happen we should just continue to work on what we’ve have doing, such as pushing for the Code of Conduct in the ASEAN and the arbitration so that there would be light,” the President said.

He said that these moves seek to determine the rights and obligations of each claimant country in discussions on the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

“Once that is resolved, there would be no more misunderstanding [on these territorial claims]  because the rights and obligations of each party would be clear,” Aquino said. 

Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said on Wednesday that the suspected airstrip on Mabini proves Manila right in filing a case against Beijing. (READ: PH ‘airstrip’ affirms case vs China–

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email