PH fears 'miscalculation' in West PH Sea
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine military on Monday, March 30, expressed fears of a possible "miscalculation" in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) as China continues its aggressive reclamation in at least 7 contested areas.
In spite of its inferior military strength, the chief of the Armed Forces of the Philipines (AFP) gave assurances it is prepared for any situation.
"We hope and pray that the Chinese government will also recognize our claim so hopefully there will be no miscalculation or unprovocative acts that will be done against our troops," General Gregorio Catapang Jr told reporters in an update on the situation in the West Philippine Sea.
"We'd like to avoid a misencounter or miscalculation that will unnecessarily provoke the countries involved in the area," Catapang added.
3 focus areas
Catapang presented the status of China's reclamation projects in 7 areas but focused his concerns on 3 areas located inside the country's 200 nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), particularly Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, Mabini (Johson) Reef, Chigua Reef.
"This is just like a Mall of Asia that they are constructing but I think they have some military or defense purposes," said Catapang, referring to a Philippine mall built on reclaimed land.
The Philippines lodged an international arbitration complaint against China to fight for its 200 nautical mile EEZ provided under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Both the Philippine and China are signatories to the UNCLOS.
Vietman – another claimant country – has filed a position paper that the Philippines believes supports its case.
While they're outside the EEZ under UNCLOS, the Philippines is also claiming other areas being reclaimed by China – Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef, Calderon (Cuarteron) Reef, Gaven Reef, and Zamora Reef.
A former Philippine military officer turned lawmaker recently expressed concerns that the Philippines may have practically lost the areas already being reclaimed by China. Catapang, however, expressed hopes that the UN and other countries could step up to implement it.
Another flash point is Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off the coast of Zambales province in Luzon. While there are no reported reclamation projects, Chinese Coast Guard vessels have practically occupied the fishing area at the expense of Filipino fishermen.
Scarborough was the site of a tense standoff between China and the Philippines in 2012.
Preparing for worst case scenarios
Asked about the military's preparations, "We cannot tell you but we are doing something to prepare. This is confidential."
'We are prepared to defend the country because these are disputed areas. Hopefully, it can be decided by the United Nations who really has a say or claim to develop or improve these areas.'
The military continues to monitor the situation in the disputed waters but it takes its cue from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Malacañang.
The Philippines wants a peaceful resolution to the maritime conflict. It is counting on its arbitration case against China.
There are doubts, however, that a ruling by the international arbitration court could stop China's activities in the contested waters.
In response to the Philippines' complaints against its reclamation projects, China hit back on the Philippine's plans to improve an existing runway in Pagasa (Tithu Island).
China has also been demanding the Philippines to remove a shipwreck in Ayungin Shoal that it has turned into a military outpost.
The Philippine military has posted its Marines to several areas in the West Philippine Sea including Pag-Asa Island and Ayungin Shoal. Tension ocasionally erupts when Chinese Coast Guard ships attempt to block Philippine ships conducting resupply and rotation missions.
"We continue to patrol and to resupply our troops out there in West Philippine Sea," said Catapang. – Rappler.com