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China starts construction in Panatag

MANILA, Philippines – China has started construction activities in the waters off Zambales, within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told congressmen on Tuesday, September 3, that China has "concrete blocks" in Panatag (Scarborough), an obvious "prelude to construction."  

"We have noticed the presence of 3 coast guard ships in Bajo de Masinloc. And we have also sighted concrete blocks inside the shoal, which is a prelude to construction," Gazmin said during the budget hearing for the Department of National Defense. 

Bajo de Masinloc has been renamed Panatag. It is located 124 nautical miles from Zambales, within the country's 200-NM exclusive economic zone. China claims practically all of South China Sea. 

Panatag is a rocky sandbar, but its location holds huge political and economic significance. Located in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), it is a strategic staging area for military operations. Scientists are also optimistic about the area’s potential oil resources.

The Philippine Navy maritime patrol aircraft monitors the area every 3 days. 

Gazmin showed pictures taken by the Philippine Navy as of August 31. He said it's the first time the navy monitored concrete blocks. He said they have more photos from Monday, September 2.

"Importante maglagay tayo ng tao diyan para ma-prevent nila. Wala tayo capability to do that as of the moment," Gazmin told reporters during the break of the budget hearing. 

(It's important that we have people stationed there so we can prevent the construction. We don't have that capability at the moment.)

Gazmin said the Philippines can only file a protest at the moment. It can add to the evidence the Philippines can present before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Seas (ITLOS).

The Philippines has lodged before the ITLOS a protest against China's aggression in the West Philippine Sea.

Gazmin said the report was submitted to the Office of the President and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). 

Akbayan Rep Walden Bello noted the same thing happened in the Mischief Reef, now occupied by China. 

"If we follow history, that is the direction, your honor," Gazmin said. – Rappler.com