PH asks China to clarify building plans on Scarborough

Pia Ranada

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PH asks China to clarify building plans on Scarborough
The Philippines will decide on its next move after China replies to its March 20 letter, says Acting Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo

BANGKOK, Thailand – The Philippines formally asked China to clarify reports that it plans to build a monitoring station on Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal), a sandbar within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

“The other day, the DFA already issued or requested China for clarification on this reported plan,” Acting Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo said in a news briefing here on Wednesday, March 22.

In a chance interview, Manalo said the Philippines sent its clarification request to China on Monday, March 20.

This is the Philippines’ second request to China in the last few weeks, asking about the regional giant’s reported activities and plans within the Philippines’ EEZ.

On March 10, the DFA said it sent a note verbale to the Chinese embassy to clarify the reported presence of a Chinese survey ship near Benham Rise, a continental shelf the United Nations confirmed belongs to the Philippines.

Manalo could not confirm a Reuters report that the Philippines plans to formally protest the supposed planned building activities in Scarborough Shoal.

But he said the Philippine government is awaiting China’s reply to the request for clarification before its next move.

“I think it’s best to just wait and see and then we decide….We are waiting for China’s reply on our clarification,” Manalo said in a chance interview.

In the meantime, he said the Philippines is “maintaining a very close watch” over Scarborough Shoal.

So far, he said, Filipino fishermen are able to access the shoal. He has not received reports on any building activities on the sandbar.

Code of Conduct

On Tuesday, President Rodrigo Duterte urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China to complete the framework of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

The framework is supposed to serve as basis for a Code of Conduct, a legally-binding agreement that sets down rules on how disputes in the South China Sea can be resolved peacefully.

ASEAN member-states like the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam have claims in parts of the South China Sea, in direct contention with China which claims virtually the entire water body.

Three days ago, Duterte said the Philippines “can’t stop China” from building on Scarborough Shoal because it lacks the military power to challenge the Asian giant.

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, however, said that there are ways for the Philippines to defend its claim without going to war with China. One of these options is to file a strong protest against China’s building activities.

Despite Duterte’s recent statements on the shoal, Manalo said the Philippines “is prepared to defend its national interest.” –

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is Rappler’s Community Lead, in charge of linking our journalism with communities for impact.