President Duterte is seeking an explanation from China over its reported construction activities in the Scarborough Shoal despite an arbitral ruling against its territorial claims.
The President has directed the Department of Foreign Affairs to summon the Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines to explain the presence of Chinese vessels within local waters.
The directive was issued the President during a closed-door meeting with the Cabinet security cluster in Davao City early yesterday morning, according to Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol.
“Why is China treating us this way? Is it because we are a small country which does not have the capability of standing up to them militarily?” Piñol quoted the President as saying.
In the security meeting in Davao, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana reportedly presented to the President surveillance photos of Chinese vessels indicating new construction at the Panatag Shoal.
Piñol, in a Facebook post, said the photos, taken last September 3, confirmed that “China continued its construction activities building what is apparently a military base.”
He said one of the Chinese vessels looked like a “dredger apparently used in turning the atolls into large military and naval facilities, including an airstrip.” The vessels also included Coast Guard patrol boats.
“Seeing the photos, President Duterte directed (Foreign Affairs) Secretary (Perfecto) Yasay (Jr.) to summon the Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines to confront her of the proofs of China’s continued activities in the area previously declared to be part of the country’s economic zone,” Piñol said.
“President Duterte, who has been very diplomatic in his approach in solving the West Philippine Sea row with China, was apparently displeased by the proofs of Chinese impunity in violating the International Arbitration ruling,” the Agriculture chief said.
Last Friday, the President revealed that China has been sending new barges to Panatag Shoal based on intelligence reports. He expressed concern about “another ruckus” if China continues its military buildup in the South China Sea.
For now, the President said he has nothing against China and would not raise the territorial dispute in the upcoming regional summit in Laos. But he said China must clarify its latest activity in the West Philippine Sea before the situation worsens.
The Hague-based international tribunal earlier ruled in favor of the Philippines in a territorial case filed against China’s sweeping claims in the West Philippine Sea. The court declared that China’s territorial claims within its nine-dash line have no legal basis. (Genalyn D. Kabiling)