PH pushes plan on sea row

MANILA — Malacañang  on Sunday  pushed for its rules-based Triple Action Plan to resolve the  West  Philippine Sea dispute  amid  artillery sightings in artificial islands built by China which  insisted it was exercising its sovereignty over the contested islands.

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said  the government has yet to verify the  article which stated that the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, which monitors developments in the South China Sea, has reported  on  the presence of artillery into Chinese reclamation sites in the Spratlys including the Philippine-claimed Kagitingan or Burgos Reef.

The United States surveillance report said that large artillery vehicles were seen pushing their way toward  the reclamation sites.

The artilleries were discovered weeks ago, but the US has not issued photographical evidence yet.

“We need to verify if the report is true,” said Coloma.

Coloma said that as a whole, the reclamation activities have called the attention of several countries since these activities have created unrest and tension in the region.

“That’s why since August  2014, the Philippines has raised the issue  in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Myanmar of  the Triple Action Plan,” said Coloma.

The plan’s   first point is the   moratorium on the activities in the maritime entitlement in the South China Sea, as well as in the islands  where the Philippines  has occupied —-the  Pag-asa Island—including scheduled  maintenance activities there.

Coloma said this has been done, the cessation of activities by the Philippines in observance of the  moratorium. According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, this is to show the country’s integrity in coming out with the Philippine position or what it calls the  “high moral ground”, said Coloma.

Coloma said the second point in the Triple Action Plan is the country’s unity with the ASEAN member-countries in following the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which hopefully would result to the creation of the legally-binding Code of Conduct based on the principle of the  ASEAN Centrality, which should be decided on by the  ASEAN countries, including  China.

Coloma said the third point is the Philippines filing of a case before the  Arbitral Tribunal of the United Nations (UN), in order to have a clear position regarding the interpretation of the  United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Coloma also reiterated the Philippines’ stance on a rules-based and diplomatic approach in considering the handling of the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea disputes.

Coloma said the Philippines will continue to follow legitimate and diplomatic rules in resolving the issue.

Rejecting US demands to stop its intensifying reclamation works in the South China Sea, Chinese Admiral Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of the general staff department in the People’s Liberation Army, told a security summit in Singapore that “the situation in the South China Sea is on the whole peaceful and stable, and there has never been an issue with the freedom of navigation.”

“China has carried out construction on some islands and reefs in the South China Sea mainly for the purpose of improving the functions of the relevant islands and reefs, and the working and living conditions of personnel stationed there.

“Apart from meeting the necessary defense needs, it is more geared to better perform China’s international responsibilities and obligations regarding maritime search and rescue, disaster prevention and relief, maritime scientific research, meteorological observation, environmental protection, safety of navigation, fishery production, services,” he added.

China insists it has sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea, a major global shipping route believed to be home to oil and gas reserves.

“When dealing with maritime disputes with relevant neighboring countries, China has always kept in mind the larger interest of maritime security,” Sun told the annual Shangri-La Dialogue.

“In spite of the sufficient historical and legal evidence and its indisputable claims, rights and interests, China has exercised enormous restraint, making positive contributions to peace and stability of the region and the world at large.”

Sun was speaking one day after US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter demanded an immediate end to China’s reclamation works and said Beijing was “out of step” with international norms with its behavior in disputed waters.

“First, we want a peaceful resolution of all disputes. To that end, there should be an immediate and lasting halt to land reclamation by all claimants,” Carter said on Saturday at the same forum with Sun and his delegation in the audience.

“We also oppose any further militarization of disputed features,” he said.

He acknowledged that other claimants have developed outposts of differing scope and degree, including Vietnam with 48, the Philippines with eight, Malaysia with five, and Taiwan with one.

“Yet, one country has gone much farther and much faster than any other.

“China has reclaimed over 2,000 acres, more than all other claimants combined and more than in the entire history of the region. And China did so in only the last 18 months,” Carter said.