Aquino on Panatag blocks: No proof vs China

NO PROOF. In Brunei, President Benigno Aquino III tells reporters he's unconvinced that China placed concrete blocks in Panatag. Photo by Robert Viu00f1as/Malacau00f1ang Photo Bureau

NO PROOF. In Brunei, President Benigno Aquino III tells reporters he's unconvinced that China placed concrete blocks in Panatag.

Photo by Robert Viu00f1as/Malacau00f1ang Photo Bureau

MANILA, Philippines – Contradicting defense officials, President Benigno Aquino III said he remains unconvinced that China installed concrete blocks in the disputed Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.

In an interview with reporters, Aquino on Wednesday evening, October 9, said a closer inspection showed barnacles and moss covering the concrete blocks.

He said the barnacles show the blocks weren't dropped or "placed there recently.” “Ngayon, 'yung who placed it, lalo lang gumulo ang usapan,” he said on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Brunei. (Now, the question of who placed it, complicates the issue further.)

“We don’t accuse until we have proof,” Aquino added, after a journalist asked him why the Philippines hasn't filed a formal protest against China over this.

In September, the Department of National Defense claimed that China has placed at least 75 concrete blocks in Panatag, also called Bajo de Masinloc. Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin described the blocks as a “prelude to construction.”

China denied the Philippines' claim, and said Panatag is China's “inherent territory” in the first place.

Panatag is located in the disputed South China Sea, portions of which the Philippines calls West Philippine Sea. Said to be rich in oil, it has reheated tensions between Manila and Beijing for over a year.

DND'S CLAIM. Defense officials say China has installed 75 concrete blocks in Panatag. Compilation of photos courtesy of DND

DND'S CLAIM. Defense officials say China has installed 75 concrete blocks in Panatag.

Compilation of photos courtesy of DND

Damaging 'trust, confidence'

In his interview on Wednesday, Aquino said doubts over the concrete blocks led to violations of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea.

Paragraph 5 of the DOC states that parties in South China Sea disputes should intensify “efforts... to build trust and confidence between and among them.” These efforts include “exchanging, on a voluntary basis, relevant information.”

So ‘pag pinag-usapan natin ang Bajo de Masinloc, ‘di ba, parang may mga instances na, lalo doon sa last part no'n, ‘exchanging, on a voluntary basis, relevant information,’ e nagkakaroon ng dudahan. 'Ano ba ang actions ng isa’t isa?' So hindi natin nami-meet, ano, ‘yung particular item na ‘yon, under items within paragraph 5,” Aquino said.

(So when we talk about Bajo de Masinloc, there are instances when, especially in the last part – 'exchanging, on a voluntary basis, relevant information – doubts arise. What are the actions of the different parties? So we fail to meet that particular item, under items within paragraph 5.)

Last October 2, the Department of Foreign Affairs said the Philippines has not filed a protest so it can focus on two other concerns: the “expeditious conclusion” of the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea, and the Philippines' arguments in its arbitration case against China, due on March 30, 2014.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario earlier said the Philippines will file a diplomatic protest against China over the concrete blocks. He said the installations will bolster the Philippines' unprecedented case against it before a United Nations tribunal.

Aquino has meanwhile urged parties in the South China Sea dispute, including China, to “follow the rule of law.” – with reports from Paterno Esmaquel II/Rappler.com