Philippines to ASEAN: ‘Speak in one voice’ vs reclamation

Paterno R. Esmaquel II
Philippines to ASEAN: ‘Speak in one voice’ vs reclamation
At the upcoming ASEAN Summit, Philippines will stress the progress of China's reclamation activities since Manila 'raised the alarm' in 2014

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines has challenged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to speak out during their upcoming summit against China’s reclamation activities in the disputed South China Sea.

“I think ASEAN should be able to speak in one voice,” Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Charles Jose said in a media briefing Tuesday, April 21.

Jose said “the most important thing” that the Philippines will raise during the ASEAN summit is the progress of China’s massive reclamation activities.

“One year ago, we already raised the alarm on the reclamation work being done by China when it was only at the initial stage, and we were already calling for attention for a common voice on this issue. And one year later, we’ve already seen how the reclamation work has progressed,” Jose explained.

On April 4, 2014, the DFA protested China’s reclamation activities on Mabini (Johnson) Reef in the South China Sea, parts of which the Philippines claims as the West Philippine Sea. (READ: PH shows ‘destabilizing’ China moves in Spratlys) 

China rejected the Philippines’ protest. 

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III himself “raised the Mabini Reef issue” at the ASEAN Summit in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, in 2014.

ASEAN foreign ministers on May 10, 2014, “expressed their serious concerns over the ongoing developments in the South China Sea, which have increased tensions in the area.”

‘We can only do diplomacy’

In Tuesday’s media briefing, Jose was asked if, by urging ASEAN to “speak in one voice,” the Philippines means the 10-member bloc should go “beyond issuing a statement.”

The DFA spokesman said: “In ASEAN, we can only do diplomacy. I think the statements issued before have been very helpful in calling attention to the developments in the South China Sea.”

The DFA’s statements came after the Philippines on Monday, April 20, said it plans to raise China’s reclamation activities at the 26th ASEAN Summit from April 26 to 27.

Foreign Assistant Secretary Luis Cruz told reporters on Monday that the reclamation issue “will be the main topic” that the Philippine president will raise during the summit.

China, for its part, criticized countries such as the Philippines for planning to bring up the South China Sea dispute during the meeting.

In a media briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the dispute “is not an issue” between China and ASEAN.

Protesting China’s reclamation activities, the Philippines said China’s artificial islands impinge on the Philippines’ rights over the West Philippine Sea and also damage biodiversity. 

The Philippines has protested China’s reclamation activities to build artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea.

Armed Forces of the Philippines chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr said the reclamation activities will likely cut the Philippines’ access to part of the disputed waters. 

On April 13, the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs said the artificial islands have destroyed 300 acres of coral reefs, and will lead to around $100 million in annual losses among coastal states. –

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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