Aquino: PH likely to cite reclamation in case vs China
MANILA, Philippines – To boost Manila's case against Beijing, President Benigno Aquino III said the government will likely present China's "clear violations" of the Declaration on Conduct (DOC) on Mabini (Johnson) Reef in the Spratlys to the arbitral tribunal.
On Tuesday, May 27, Aquino told reporters on the sidelines of the 116th Philippine Navy anniversary, that the Philippines would include the construction of an airstrip by China on disputed Mabini Reef in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), in its complaint against the superpower.
"In their construction of these facilities and their reclaiming of Mabini, it is clear they are violating both the spirit and the letter of the DOC, which was agreed upon in 2002. And we brought this up and we will be bringing it up again before ASEAN and probably also in (the arbitral tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration)," he said.
Aquino cited the fifth provision of the DOC, which reads, "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 island, reef, shoals, case and other features and to handle their differences into a constructive manner."
Earlier this month, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) released photos showing the construction on Mabini Reef in the Spratlys. The Philippines has since lodged a protest against China for the reclamation, which the Chinese snubbed. (READ: PH: Spratlys 'airstrip' affirms case vs China)
"So the construction there, I believe is an obvious violation. No matter how good of a lawyer you are, you cannot defend this [activity]," Aquino said.
In March, the Philippines filed a historic pleading against China's claims over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), and submitted a nearly 4,000-page document, called a memorial, to end decades of alleged bullying by the rising superpower. It sent the memorial to a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal.
But the DFA has also warned that the reconstruction activities on Mabini Reef are “jeopardizing” its case against China by turning the uninhabited rock into an island. It said classifying Mabini as an island, instead of a rock, would broaden its maritime entitlement to a 200-nautical mile (NM) exclusive economic zone (EEZ) – and favor China.
Aquino however said China turning previously uninhabited Mabini Reef into an island also violates the DOC.
"When you say 'island' it must be inhabitable. It must have facilities, for instance, like a source of water, but it must be enough to sustain the community. When you say inhabited, that means there were people to begin with. Not that you took people there. And for them to remain there, you're not supposed to bring supplies to sustain them," he said.
The Philippines and China are locked in a maritime row. But the Philippines is not the only nation having problems with China.
Vietnam's tensions with China are reaching breaking point following China's move to deploy an oil rig and vessels near the disputed Paracel Islands.
On Tuesday, a Vietnamese maritime safety official confirmed the ramming of a fishing boat by a Chinese vessel. The 10 fishermen are now safe and on land.
Aquino admitted he is alarmed by China's actions and said the Philippines is keeping an eye out on China's activities towards Vietnam, to prepare itself for any future attacks by China.
"Of course we are watching everything that is happening there. We are taking away lessons and the military, Coast Guard and other concerned agencies are studying their moves and the possible scenarios, and what an appropriate repsonse from us would be," he said.
Just last week, the Philippines and Vietnam issued a joint statement condemining China's actions, and demanding the compliance of international law.
'Not all about China'
But Aquino also emphasized that not every move he does is in anticipation of China's actions.
Asked whether his coming to Palawan at the navy headquarters for its aniversary was sending a message to China, Aquino said "not everything I do is related to China."
"Just because I eat in a Chinese restaurant, it does not mean I am trying to find a better relationship with them, although I want better relationship with them," he said.
Aquino said the focus of developing the navy headquarters in Puerto Princesa is because of its location. "This is our closest geographical facility to an area where we have a lot of interest. And instead of delaying the ability of our forces to respond to anything, be it a man-made or a natural disaster, then it is logical to put them in a position where they can address the particular issue at the soonest possible time. So that's the basic issue," he said.
"It is in furtherance of our interest rather than in anticipation of anybody else's acts."
The Naval Forces West (NFW) Command Center in Palawan is the navy’s primary operational command securing the West Philippine Sea. In a statement, Malacañang said it has been at the forefront of territorial defense operations in the Spratlys, or the Kalayaan Island Group.
It recently upgraded its command center to include secure communications equipment and a satellite-based vessel tracking system, which the Palace said "will further bolster our defense capabilities and ensure stability in the area."
The Naval Station Carlito Cunanan also in Palawan, has been slated for redevelopment, which includes the rehabilitation of the pier, living quarters, and other support facilities.
These efforts, said the statement, are in line with the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), through which the country aims to further improve its defense capacities. (READ: DOCUMENT: Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement)
Aquino also reacted to the case filed against EDCA a day earlier, questioning its constitutionality.
"That was expected. It was expected that there will be quarters that would file it and true to form most of those that I saw in the papers today that filed, were the ones expected to file," he said.
The Palace has said it can confidently defend the EDCA in court.
The EDCA is an agreement between the Philippines and the US which allows American troops more access to Philippine military facilities. Critics have questioned its legality. - Rappler.com