Fresh PH China face off looms

MANILA — Another face-off looms between the naval forces of the Philippines and China in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), following the latter’s pronouncement that it would implement starting next year a no permit, no entry policy on all Chinese-claimed territories.

President Benigno Aquino 3rd said on Friday that the Philippines will accelerate the filing of a protest, claim before an International Tribunal if China’s plans to board ships in the West Philippine Sea are verified as true. The President said that he ordered the Department of Foreign Affairs to form a task force that will verify China’s plans to board and search ships in the disputed waters.

If found to be true, the President said that the country could either file a diplomatic note or formal protest.

“We might accelerate and bring it before the appropriate international tribunal to finally settle the matter or at least start the process of settling it legally and concretely,” he added Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban, commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Western Command, said that his forces are always ready if the need arises.

Under the rules of engagement, Sabban explained that it is the Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine Maritime Police that should implement the country’s maritime defense, but stressed that his command is always ready to provide the necessary firepower and support.

“They can call us for support,” Sabban said as he assured the Coast Guard and the country’s Maritime Police that his forces would be there to provide support where the action is at a given notice.

According to Sabban, the command’s naval and air assets are always conducting regular sea patrols and reconnaissance flights to monitor the situation in the West Philippine Sea.

Beijing earlier said that it has granted its police border patrol to board and seize foreign vessels entering in disputed territories. “Activities such as entering the island province’s waters without permission, damaging coastal defense facilities, and engaging in publicity that threatens national security are illegal,” the China Daily reported.

Sabban pointed out that if China pushes through with its plan, it would violate the law on international passage.

China, he added, is going beyond the limit at a time when the Philippine is exerting all diplomatic efforts to maintain peace and stability in the area.

“Sobra na yun, while we are exerting all peaceful means yun naman ang ginagawa nila,” Sabban stressed.

The Philippines and China, along with Vietnam, Brunei, Indonenia and Taiwan, are claiming in whole or in part the Kalayaan (Spratly) group of islands in the West Philippine Sea.

The island group is believed to be awash with mineral and oil deposits.

Among the six-claimant countries, only China claims all the reefs, atolls and islets in the West Philippine Sea.

Manila and Beijing are locked in a dispute over the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, the Subi Reef, Hasa-Hasa Shoal, the Reed Bank and the Pag-asa Island, which are all within the 220-mile exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.

The Philippines occupies Pag-asa, which has been declared in the ‘70s as a municipality of Palawan province. A 1.3-kilometer airstrip has been built in the area to accommodate planes that deliver troops and supply.

China, on the other hand, occupies the Subi Reef, among others. It has also maintained the presence of two ships at the Panatag Shoal, which is part of Zambales province.