AFP rotates troops in Ayungin, other islets in Kalayaan
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippines and three other Southeast Asian countries will meet next month to discuss territorial claims in the South China Sea as well as the role of China, which declares the entire area as its own, the country's top diplomat said Wednesday. There is no specific agenda yet for the Dec. 12 meeting in Manila with Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said.
The vice-ministerial level meeting goes against Beijing's approach of trying to settle the conflicts bilaterally, and is a step outside the confines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes all four countries as well as several others close to China.
"What we are trying to do here is we are trying to demonstrate that we can endeavor to discuss (the territorial conflict) ... and we are willing to do this either within ASEAN or outside of ASEAN," del Rosario said.
The 10-member bloc concluded its annual summit on Monday without reaching any consensus on the maritime disputes.
China claims the entire South China Sea region, including the Spratly Islands, which are believed to sit atop rich oil and gas deposits and straddle one of the world's busiest sea lanes.
The four countries claim parts of the region. China and Vietnam fought a brief naval battle in the 1980s in the Spratlys.
Manila's claims include the Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground west of its main island of Luzon. Chinese and Filipino ships were locked in a tense standoff at the shoal earlier this year after the Philippine navy accosted Chinese fishermen there.
"We view the situation in the South China Sea as being a threat to the stability and security in the region ... we believe this is not a bilateral issue, it is not even a regional issue. It is an international issue," del Rosario said.
MANILA, Philippines - The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has rotated its troops in the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG), including those deployed in Ayungin Shoal, where Chinese surveillance vessels have taken up positions for more than a month now.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is once again adopting a "do-nothing strategy" in Ayungin Reef, a part of the country's regime of islands in the hotly-contested Spratlys region being claimed by five other countries including China whose ships have reportedly taken up position in the area.
AFP chief, Gen. Emmanuel Bautista said Wednesday that the re-provisioning operations for the troops was carried out by the Western Command (Wescom) without any hostile action taking place.
“We have rotated [the troops]. Periodically, we are doing this troop rotation. We are also re-supplying them. Not only those deployed at Ayungin but those in other islets,” Bautista said.
The Wescom, which is based in Palawan and under the command of Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, has operational jurisdiction over the country’s Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) in the West Philippine Sea and in Pag-Asa Island and nearby islets located in the hotly-contested Spratly’s region.
About 120 nautical miles from Rizal, Palawan, Ayungin Shoal has been surrounded by Chinese frigates and surveillance ships since last month, raising fears of a possible naval confrontation when Wescom conducts its routine re-provisioning and troop rotation in the shoal.
Filipino troops deployed in Ayungin Shoal, on board a grounded Philippine Navy logistic and landing ship BRP Sierra Madre, are getting their monthly food and water rations from the Wescom either by sea or through an air-drop operations.
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“We rotated [them] this month. Periodically we are doing this rotation,” Bautista told Camp Aguinaldo reporters.
While withholding other details of the operations, Bautista said the rotation of troops proceeded smoothly with the two Chinese surveillance ships present near the Ayungin Shoal, not making any aggressive moves to impede the freedom of navigation in the area.
Concerns were raised that China's deployment of its surveillance vessels in Ayungin is primary aimed at denying Filipino troops deployed in the shoal food and drinking water to force them to abandon their post.
“On our end, we will remain non-confrontational in all our actions [in the West Philippine Sea] for as long as our movement to show the flag in all our territories and protect the country’s interests [in the West Philippine Sea] are not hampered,” Bautista said.
Bautista also stressed that the AFP while be submitting to the international arbitration process for the peaceful resolution of the territorial conflict among Spratlys-claimant countries, will continue performing its mandate as protector of the country's territorial integrity and sovereignty.
MANILA, Philippines - Tensions in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) simmered in the year just past with the ongoing territorial disputes between the Philippines and China.
The dispute occurred as the two countries were to highlight the deep friendship and close cooperation following the launching of the 2012-2013 Philippines-China Years of Friendly Exchanges (YFE).
In April, the Philippine Navy was locked in a standoff with Chinese government vessels in Panatag Shoal, also called Bajo de Masinloc and Scarborough Shoal, located 124 nautical miles off Zambales. The shoal is well within the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf.
The standoff began when a Navy surveillance plane spotted during a routine patrol eight Chinese fishing vessels anchored in a lagoon at Panatag Shoal. This prompted the military to deploy its largest warship, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, a refurbished former US Coast Guard cutter transferred to the Philippines last year. The Philippine vessel discovered the Chinese fishing boats illegally harvesting endangered corals, giant clams and live sharks. Two Chinese surveillance vessels positioned themselves between the Philippine ship and the Chinese fishermen, preventing any arrest or further action. Neither side was willing to back down as the two countries scrambled to find a diplomatic solution.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said the Chinese fishermen had been “engaged in illegal fishing and harvesting of endangered marine species.”
The Philippines lodged a diplomatic protest over the intrusion of Chinese fishing vessels and maritime surveillance ships in the country’s territory and vowed to defend its sovereignty if challenged by China.
Beijing exerted pressure on Manila by discouraging tourism and imposing additional inspections on imports of Philippine bananas.
Protests were staged by Filipinos and civic groups in the Philippines in May against China’s claim over Panatag Shoal, an exercise of the “right of freedom of expression.”
China also exerted heavy pressure on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at its annual meeting last July in Phnom Penh to reject any statement regarding the South China Sea.
The 10-nation bloc for the first time in its 45-year history failed to issue a joint communiqué because of tensions over the maritime disputes. China’s close ally Cambodia, the ASEAN chair, consistently opposed any mention of the Panatag Shoal at all in the joint statement and announced that a joint communiqué “cannot be issued.”
The Philippines deplored the non-issuance of a communiqué. The Philippines maintained that Panatag Shoal was an important topic discussed with concern by a majority of ASEAN member states because of the developments in the area which pose a threat to the peace, stability, freedom of navigation and unimpeded commerce in the region.
The DFA summoned then Cambodian Ambassador to Manila Hos Sereythonh to explain remarks accusing the Philippines and Vietnam of playing “dirty politics” over the issue of ASEAN and the South China Sea. Hos made the comments in a letter to The STAR.
In August, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Policy Erlinda Basilio handed a note verbale to Cambodian embassy Second Secretary Tan Chandaravuth containing the protest against Hos’ serious accusations against the Philippines. Hos did not show up at the DFA despite being summoned to explain his accusations against his host government, citing health reasons. Basilio asked Tan to convey to the Cambodian ambassador the need to explain the accusations. Hos, who did not heed the DFA summons, ended his tour of duty a year ahead of schedule and left Manila last August as bilateral tensions flared over the West Philippine Sea.
The non-issuance of a joint communiqué was then followed by China’s announcement that the Nansha (Spratlys), Xisha (Paracels), and Zhongsha (Macclesfield Bank) territories would all be administered by a new, prefecture-level political entity called Sansha City.
The new Sansha prefecture has a military garrison headed by a senior colonel. China earlier announced its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) would now be mounting regular combat-ready patrols of the Spratlys, an indication that Beijing is prepared to militarize its claims within the so-called “9-dash line.”
In July, the DFA summoned Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing and presented her a note verbale where the Philippines protested Beijing’s establishment of a new “prefectural-level” city of Sansha to administer three disputed islands in the South China Sea and future development of the islands. The US said China’s upgrading of the administrative level of Sansha City and the establishment of a new military garrison there covering disputed areas of the South China Sea run counter to collaborative diplomatic efforts to resolve differences and risk further escalating tensions in the region.
The State Department said the US is concerned by the increase in tensions in the South China Sea and is monitoring the situation closely.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing concerning US accession into the United Nations Convention of the Law on the Sea (UNCLOS) that China’s claims in the West Philippine Sea exceeded what was permitted by UNCLOS. Beijing reminded Washington not to get involved in the dispute. The US has been pushing for a multilateral resolution to the territorial claims.
During the first ever 2+2 meeting with Del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and their US counterparts Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in Washington, Clinton said the US is deeply concerned about the events in the South China Sea, including the tensions surrounding Scarborough Shoal. Clinton emphasized Washington opposes the threat or use of force by any party to advance its claims and “we will remain in close contact with our ally, the Philippines.”
Del Rosario said that “in terms of US commitment, I think the US has been very clear that they do not get involved in territorial disputes, but that they are firm in terms of taking a position for a peaceful settlement of the disputes in the South China Sea and a multilateral approach towards the use of a rules-based regime in accordance with international law, specifically UNCLOS.”
Del Rosario emphasized the Philippines-US alliance “does not aim to confront or contain anyone” and that “the last thing (that) the Philippines wants to do is to heighten tensions (in the West Philippine Sea) and drag our allies into it.”
New ambassador to China The Commission on Appointments confirmed last month the nomination of Undersecretary Basilio, replacing Ambassador Sonia Brady, as the country’s next top diplomat to China. Brady, a retired career foreign service officer, suffered a stroke in August. Basilio had no problems hurdling her confirmation hearing because of her extensive experience as a former ambassador to China and undersecretary for policy of the DFA. She breezed through the CA unlike the President’s original nominee, businessman Domingo Lee, who underwent three hearings without getting the nod.
The urgency of sending an official representative of the country to China amid a tense standoff between the Philippines and China over Panatag Shoal was well understood by CA members.
The DFA is counting on the seasoned senior diplomat to play a major role in achieving the Philippines’ defined objectives, relying on her experience and expertise in dealing with all current matters pertaining to Philippine relations with China.
China is hopeful the appointment of the new ambassador may facilitate communication between the two sides.
In her paper “Why There was No ASEAN Joint Communiqué,” Basilio said the Philippines could not perpetually remain mute over the brazen acts of infringement on its territory and intimidation by China since Beijing decided to escalate the tensions, resulting in the deployment of numerous vessels to Philippine territory.
Basilio belied and corrected erroneous information and grave misimpressions generated during the 45th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Cambodia, such as the Philippines unilaterally escalated the rhetoric on the matter of contested islets and shoals – and then invoking the entire ASEAN community as a party to the confrontation.
She said the Philippines has been approaching the issue with patience and tolerance as the country endeavors to avail of all peaceful means to resolve it in accordance with the rule of law.
In April, the Philippines formally invited China to bring their claim to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) for a legal and lasting solution to the territorial dispute.
The DFA sent a note verbale to the Chinese side, calling on China to respect the Philippines’ sovereignty and sovereign rights under international law including the UNCLOS over Panatag Shoal and its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), respectively.
In the same note verbale, the DFA formally invited China to join the Philippines in bringing the issue before an appropriate third-party adjudication body under international law, specifically ITLOS, with respect to the rights and obligations of the two countries in the Philippines’ EEZ.
This approach would resolve on a long-term basis any differences of position on the issue, and ensure a peaceful, stable, and lasting bilateral relationship between the Philippines and China.
Del Rosario’s invitation to seek recourse in ITLOS was made even as China continued to display its might and its ships currently engaging in illegal activities within the Philippines’ EEZ.
Del Rosario said international law would be the greatest equalizer.
China, however, maintained the Scarborough Shoal dispute should be resolved through “friendly” consultations, contrary to the Philippines’ strong position to submit the claims and defend its position before a UN-backed tribunal.
Beijing said it recognizes countries abiding by international rules, but rejected a Philippine invitation to proceed to the ITLOS to justify claims and defend their respective positions, saying it has no obligation to accept Manila’s invitation.
China admitted UNCLOS allows coastal states to claim a 200-nautical mile EEZ but declared there is no such issue of taking the sea dispute to ITLOS.
Raising a new argument to evade ITLOS, China viewed the submission of the dispute over Panatag Shoal to international arbitration as a “weird” thing in international affairs.
China enraged several neighbors with a few dashes on a map printed on its newly revised passports, showing it staking its claim on the entire South China Sea.
The Philippines protested China’s printing of a map of the West Philippine Sea that forms part of Philippine territory in new Chinese electronic passports. A note verbale was sent last month to the Chinese embassy protesting the inclusion of the 9-dash lines in the e-passports of China, as such image covers an area that is clearly part of the Philippine territory and maritime domain. The Philippines does not accept the validity of the 9-dash lines that amount to an excessive declaration of maritime space in violation of international law.
Philippine diplomatic missions and the Bureau of Immigration started implementing the new procedure not to stamp visas on Chinese e-passports bearing China’s excessive claim over the entire South China Sea to avoid the country being misconstrued as legitimizing China’s 9-dash line claim.
The Philippines also issued a note verbale to the Chinese embassy seeking clarification on China’s new policy that will allow police to board foreign vessels that enter disputed areas in the South China Sea starting in 2013.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said coastal border defense regulation promulgated by Hainan province, which authorizes law enforcement over foreign fishing boats that enter waters under its jurisdiction, is China’s right to carry out maritime management.
Foreign vessels illegally entering the waters under the jurisdiction of Hainan province – which China claims to include virtually the entire South China Sea under the 9-dash line – can be boarded, inspected, detained, confiscated, immobilized and expelled, among other punitive actions.
The US State Department raised to China the report that Hainan will allow police to board foreign vessels that enter disputed areas in the South China Sea “to get a better understanding of what they intend.”
The US had expressed on two occasions its concern to China over a controversial map embossed on all newly issued Chinese passports showing the entire South China Sea and other disputed regions.
Sending a strong message, Del Rosario admitted resolving the territorial dispute with China would not be easy as he called for a position of “patriotism” among Filipinos and sacrifice if the Philippines is tested.
The Philippines should continue to stand up and defend its sovereign rights over the shoal and the West Philippine Sea in general, he said.
“We need to defend what is ours. We need to stand up even as we look for ways to solve the disputes peacefully. We need to stand for what is ours. In order for us to do this I think it is not going to be easy and as you see it is not easy,” Del Rosario said before the Makati Business Club and the Management Association of the Philippines last May.
State of Kalayaan 
The Philippine assertion of sovereignty over the Spratly Islands began in May 1956, when Tomas Cloma, owner of a Philippine fishing vessel company and director of the Philippine Maritime Institute, declared the founding of the new state called "Kalayaan" (Eng.: freedom). He found the islands while he, with his brothers and 40 crew, was adventuring in the vast South China Sea. Observing that there was no human settlement nor national flag present on them, he decided to establish the Kalayaan state. He posted a document in English, entitled Notice to the Whole World, on all features he claimed. His claim comprises about fifty features among the Spratly group. His declaration was met with violent reactions from other countries like China and South Vietnam, as well as the European countries of France, United Kingdom, and the Netherlands, who were representing their colonies in Southeast Asia. While the Philippines did not endorse the new state to the world, it acknowledged it as the true sovereign state. In September 1956, after the Republic of China occupied the largest island, Ligao Island (Itu Aba), Tomas Cloma decided to cede and sell all the territories of his state to the Philippines for just one peso (US$0.50 of the time).
Philippine occupation 
The Philippines sent troops to the Spratly group for the first time in 1968. It prioritized large islands such as Pagasa (Thitu) Island, Likas (West York) Island, Parola Island (Northeast Cay), Kota (Loaita) Island, Lawak (Nanshan) Island, and Pugad Island (Southwest Cay). Two small islands, Patag (Flat) Island and Panata Island (Lankiam Cay), were also occupied. Both are less than a hectare in size.
To further the claim of the Philippines on the island group, the late President Ferdinand Marcos, on June 11, 1978, formally annexed the Kalayaan Islands by virtue of Presidential Decree No.1596 to the Palawan.
Several years after the Philippines had occupied its latest island, it had been apparent that Vietnam is not content in only occupying islands. Vietnam started occupying many reefs. As of 2008, Vietnam has about 30 non-island occupied features. Some of these are very close to Philippine-occupied islands. Due to this pressure of losing fishing area in South China Sea, the Philippines decided to occupy at least two reefs. One is Rizal (Commodore) Reef which does not belong in the northeast region. It is near to many Vietnamese and Malaysian occupied reefs, thus serving as a good sentry against eastward expansion of Vietnam and northward expansion of Malaysia (see the map below). Another one is Balagtas (Irving) Reef. Unlike Rizal Reef, Balagtas Reef lies at the center of the northeast region, making islands occupied by the Philippines seem to be closer to each other. If this was occupied by other country, Philippine-occupied islands would have a hard time reaching each other.
Southwest Cay, known as Pugad island in the Philippines, as (南子岛) Nanzi Dao in China and as Đảo Song Tử Tây in Vietnam, is an island that belongs to the Spratly group. It was occupied by Philippine forces up to 1975 only when South Vietnam forces were able to invade the island. 
Southwest Cay is in the northern edge of the Spratly group. It is within North Danger Reef which also contains the Philippine-occupied Northeast Cay (Parola Island), Vietnamese-occupied South Reef and unoccupied North Reef. Southwest Cay and Northeast Cay are just 1.75 miles (2.82 km) away from each other. Each island can actually see the other within their respective horizons.
The invasion took place when all the Philippine soldiers guarding the island of Pugad left to attend to the birthday party of their commanding officer who is based on nearby Parola Island. The storm that day is also believed to have persuaded all the soldiers to regroup temporarily on Parola island. A report also came out saying that South Vietnamese officials managed to send Vietnamese prostitutes to the birthday party to lure the Filipino soldiers guarding Pugad Island. It was said to be a "present" to the Philippine commander for his birthday and as a move of South Vietnamese forces to befriend all Filipino soldiers guarding the Spratlys. Philippine soldiers did not expect that South Vietnam would resort to foul play since both Philippines and South Vietnam, together with the United States, were allies in the Vietnam War. This tactic is believed to be the reason why South Vietnamese forces knew that the Filipino soldiers left the island, an action that is usually kept confidential.
After the party and after the weather cleared out, the returning soldiers were surprised that a company of South Vietnamese soldiers were already in the island. The South Vietnamese flag replaced the Philippine flag flying in the pole created by Philippine soldiers themselves. The soldiers returned to Parola immediately for fear that Parola would be the next target. After higher-ups of the Philippines were informed about the situation, they instructed the troops based in Parola and Pagasa to stay on red alert status. For the following mornings, the only thing the Filipino soldiers could do in Parola was to "curse" while South Vietnamese sang their national anthem. Malacañang officials, who did not want to compromise the alliance while the Vietnam War was still being fought, decided to remain silent.
A few months later, the recently formed unified Vietnam (after North Vietnam successfully invaded South Vietnam) decided to remove all remaining South Vietnamese troops in the Spratlys and establish military control among the features. It was reported that dozens of South Vietnamese soldiers in Pugad Island swam all the way to Parola just to avoid being captured by North Vietnamese forces. It was then when Malacañang officials, headed by President Ferdinand Marcos, discussed how the Philippines could reclaim the island. It had been apparent that most of the officials (who treat the communists as a threat to the Philippine national security) want to attack Pugad to reclaim it. However, after an intelligence report came stating that the unified Vietnam had already built a huge concrete garrison within a few weeks, the officials dropped the plan and tried to resolve the issue diplomatically. However, this approach eventually died along the process making Pugad a Vietnamese-occupied island up to this day. This incident was confirmed in interviews with soldiers involved in an episode of the defunct Magandang Gabi Bayan (Eng.: Good Evening Nation) (MGB) of ABS-CBN.
Expansion of other claimants 
By the end of the 1970s, the Philippines had occupied a total of eight islands and two reefs. These features, excluding Southwest Cay, are still occupied by the Philippines today. The Philippines has never occupied another feature after the 1970s until 1999. While other countries occupied most of the features they control now during that period, the Philippines has maintained not to occupy any features further. It is attributed to the Philippines' initiation for the cooperative development of the area. The Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia, along with other ASEAN countries who can serve as investors, were already drawing a plan on a wide exploitation of the Spratly group in the early 1980s when suddenly China became interested in the area. China began occupying features by mid-1980s causing the ASEAN plan to halt. The most controversial occupation of China is the Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef) in 1995 (See Mischief Reef for further discussion).
In 1999, Malaysia occupied Gabriela Silang Reef (Erica Reef) and Pawikan Reef (Investigator Shoal), causing the Philippines to protest further. Due to this pressure, with China's Mischief Reef just 130 miles (210 km) off Palawan and Vietnam's Pigeon Reef and Malaysia's Investigator Shoal just 150 miles (240 km) off Palawan, the Philippines decided to occupy Ayungin Reef (Second Thomas Reef) in 1999. No structure is built on the reef. Soldiers stationed there take shelter at BRP Sierra Madre, a Philippine naval ship that went aground in the reef shortly before the Philippines decided to occupy it. Together with Rizal Reef (Commodore Reef), Ayungin Reef can give the Philippines a sentry advantage in stopping other countries' occupation of features nearest to the Philippines (see map below).
China has also been reported seeking to establish another forward outpost, past Mischief Reef and closer to Palawan. Twice since 1998, it planted buoys on Sabina Shoal, just 82 miles (132 km) off Palawan.Philippine Air Force planes have blasted the buoys out of the water.
China occupied only eight features. However, these features were strategic points in the area, making China able to assert its exploitation rights for the whole area. In contrast, the Philippines and Malaysia are limited to particular regions in the area, making these two countries incapable of contesting exploitation rights in other regions. In his essay contributed for TIME Asia in 1999, Professor Alex Magno of University of the Philippines pointed out that China is the main aggressor in the Spratly dispute. Magno, in particular, called on ASEAN to be watchful of China's actions in the South China Sea (Magno said it is very unlucky for ASEAN that the sea where the Spratly group lies is named South China Sea, named after China). Being one of the major consumers of Chinese goods and being adjacent to China itself, the ASEAN bloc is capable of crippling the Chinese economy, both through product boycotts and the possibility of peace instability. Even non-Spratly claiming ASEAN nations—Singapore, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar—are more supportive to the Vietnamese, Philippine, Malaysian and Bruneian claims than the Chinese claim. However, China today is beginning to engage itself in joint efforts to exploit the area. In particular, China, the Philippines, and Vietnam are already working on their second phase of drawing a joint exploitation plan.
In November 2002 the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea was signed in an effort to ease tensions between the claimants. It has been described as stipulating "that all nations claiming sovereignty over the Spratly Islands shall commit to the status quo and shall not erect any new structure in the disputed regions of Spratly, Paracel (Xisha) and Huangyan Islands." The actual language of the declaration, however, mentions neither "status quo" nor the erection of structures.
JMSU controversy 
The Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) is a tripartite agreement between the Philippines, China and Vietnam to conduct seismic exploration in an area spanning 142,886 square kilometers west ofPalawan, all of which are within Philippine territories (as defined by EEZ of UNCLOS and does not necessarily mean as accepted by China and Vietnam). More specifically it is an agreement betweenPhilippine National Oil Company -Exploration Corporation (PNOC-EC), China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and Vietnam Oil and Gas Corporation (PetroVietnam), that was signed in September 2004 and took effect in July 2005. JMSU has already finished the first phase of the seismic exploration which lasted from September 1 to November 16, 2006, covering 11,000 line kilometers. A Chinese vessel conducted the survey, Vietnam processed the data gathered and this was interpreted by PNOC-EC in Manila. The second phase started in October 2007, covering 11,800 line kilometers. It was supposedly to end January 2008.
A controversy broke out when Barry Wain, a researcher in the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, wrote an article in the January–February 2008 issue of the Hong-Kong-based Far Eastern Economic Review saying that "it was largely a sellout on the part of the Philippines". Wain wrote:
Regarding the area of exploration he stated:
This prompted the Philippine Senate and House of Representatives (HR) to seek separate inquiries into the said agreement. Several senators alleged that "the agreement weakens the government's position in its claim over the disputed islands." Also, some alleged that it is a "precondition" set by China in exchange of some loan agreements. After signing the agreement, China has committed Philippines $2 billion USD a year in loans. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is suspected by some legislators to be hiding the facts about the agreement. Malacañang rebuts by saying that the agreement is not hidden and is actually posted in a government website. However, legislators are not convinced. They say Malacañang intentionally did not disseminate the right amount of information about the agreement including a detailed map which was only made available by Malacañang few days after the controversy broke out to a limited number of people. China denied the allegations connecting the deal with the loans.
Another puzzle some legislators pointed out is the continued delay in the passage of the bill setting the Philippines’ archipelagic baselines. The bill is needed to be passed before the middle of 2009 to beat the deadline set by the United Nations for the measures defining countries’ territorial claims. The bill has just passed its second reading and the third and final reading is not yet started. Furthermore, the HR committee on foreign affairs received a message from Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) saying that the bill should not be passed because it is in conflict with some international agreements the government had entered to.
The Philippine Senate, which is an opposition-majority block, believes that the President can be impeached if she was proven to have forsaken the national interests of the Philippines. Charges can includetreason, betrayal of public trust, violation of the constitution and other charges related to other anomalies the Arroyo is currently facing. The Philippine Senate believes that the agreement should have gone through them for ratification before it could take effect.
Opposition legislators also say that the agreement is a betrayal to the 10-member ASEAN. After ASEAN, as a group, confronted China 10 years ago regarding the latter’s apparent of hegemonic motive in South China Sea, the legislators said that Philippines had made an agreement with China on its own without even consulting other ASEAN states. Vietnam is said to have initially resisted joining the agreement but was eventually "forced" to join to protect its own interest after Philippines gave China a 100% OK.
The alleged betrayal also extends up to the signing of the Code of Conduct in 2002. The legislators said that after convincing the other ASEAN states to force China sign the Declaration, which China initially resisted, the Philippines had made an agreement which will clearly affect the fates of other ASEAN states without even consulting them. The legislators also say that Arroyo became too soft regarding China’s claim over the Spratlys, while all other ASEAN states are still strongly rejecting it.
Malacañang, on the other hand, continues to stress that there is nothing wrong with the agreement and that it doesn’t go against the constitution. They contend that the agreement is for purely seismic activities only, without any actual exploitation activities, thus there is no need for a Senate ratification. Supporters of the agreement contend that the nature of the activity is a scientific one which helps in easing the tensions among the three involved nations. They also say that the JMSU is not different from other agreements the Philippines had made in the past with Australia and Norway regarding the oil in the Spratlys. Critics, on the other hand, pointed that Australia and Norway are in a different situation since neither of these countries is a claimant to the Spratlys.
Because of the controversy, some Philippine legislators were alarmed by the increasing Chinese influence in the Philippines which is in parallel with the growing influence of China in other countries, especially in Africa. Reports came out saying that the United States was "pissed off" by the Philippines’ deal with China, signifying a war of the US and China for dominance in the ASEAN region. The US embassy in Manila denied the reports.
Activities and policies 
Guarding activity 
The Philippines have stationed soldiers in its occupied islands and reefs. One to three small structures were built in Likas, Parola, Kota, Lawak and Rizal Reef to house soldiers. The only island having a significant number of structures is Pagasa (see Pagasa Island subsection in this article), the only Philippine-occupied island to have a civilian population. The Philippines had built any structure on Ayungin and Balagtas Reefs. A naval ship, BRP Sierra Madre, which ran aground on Ayungin Reef in 1999 serves as the shelter and observation post of soldiers stationed here. In Balagtas Reef, the Philippine Navy's ships alternately take shifts in guarding the reef, though they are not just guarding this reef but the whole area that is enclosed by all other Philippine-occupied islands. The two other Philippine-occupied islands, Patag and Panata, are each less than an hectare in area. Fortunately for the Philippines, these two tiny islands are each near to a large Philippine-occupied island. Patag Island is just 6 miles (9.7 km) from Lawak Island and Panata Island is just 8 miles (13 km) from Kota Island. The two large islands, Lawak and Kota, are 7.93 and 6.45 hectares in area respectively. With this setting, the Philippines is able to guard the small islands effectively without having to build any structures or to send any soldiers permanently to the two tiny islands. A 10 metres (33 ft) watchtower is present on each of the large islands toeffectively see the tiny islands within the horizon. Also, Philippine naval vessels and reconnaissance planes are always present in the area to detect movements of foreign countries.
Philippine in the Spratly group, just like any other country, reserve the right to shoot down any vessel of other countries that can be found within the horizon of its occupied features. For instance, the Smart Communications engineering team (who will install a communication system) sent to Pagasa Island in 2005 was forced to seek temporary refuge in BRP Sierra Madre because of an unexpected storm. Because their boat didn't carry a Philippine flag, the soldiers at BRP Sierra Madre considered sinking the boat. Fortunately for the engineering team, the soldiers did not continue their plan because they somehow felt that the boat is manned by Filipinos. They accurately thought that it might be just seeking refuge because of the storm.
A Philippine Star editorial cartoondepicting ROC's President Chen Shui-bian (holding a "Tai-ping" sign) successfully hitting a Filipino (holding a "Ligao" sign) with a rock. Tai-ping is the ROC's name for Itu Aba Island, where President Chen visited in February 2008. The cartoon is a commentary on the Philippines' ability to enforce its claim in the Spratlys due, to its lagging military capabilities. Ligao is the Philippine name for the island.
A documentary produced by i-Witness of GMA 7, a local TV network, entitled Bantay ng Kalayaan (lit. Guard(s) of Kalayaan), featured the lives of soldiers guarding the islands of Patag and Lawak Islands. Because the two islands are near to each other, they are managed as a single division. In the documentary, only four enlisted soldiers are guarding them. A simple wooden structure was built in Lawak Island, the larger of the two islands. This serves as their shelter. They have two dogs which serve as inexpensive companions. A basketball ring is also erected to provide them a pastime on their boring assignment. Every month, a naval vessel visits to drop new supplies and to replace one or two soldiers. Their weapons only include M16 rifles and a few grenades. The soldiers themselves believe that they will never be able to protect the islands if other countries will try to attack them. However, all of them agree that the islands should be guarded since it is of national importance. Occasionally, some Filipino fishermen who happen to see the islands, visit for a few minutes for some nice chit-chats with the soldiers. These fishermen will normally commend the soldiers, boosting the soldiers' morale. Then before leaving, these fishermen give the soldiers some of their catch.
Among the claimant nations, the Philippines can be treated as the weakest in terms of military capabilities. It lacks sufficient military hardware. Its defense program in the Spratlys only include several old naval vessels, most of which are used already by the US military. Its planes are more surveillance types than fighter types. A formerArmed Forces chief of the Philippines, General Hermogenes Esperon Jr., expressed doubts that the Philippines can win a war with other claimants. However, he said that this will not hinder the Philippine soldiers from defending the islands. "We may not have the chance, but that does not mean that soldiers are not willing to fight for the country," he said. He said that despite limited firepower, Philippine troops are ready to do "hand-to-hand" combat.
After the signing of the Code of Conduct between claimant nations in November 2002, the Philippines have maintained a total of 60 soldiers stationed in all of the features it occupies. About 40 of those are in Pagasa Island. The remainder are divided among the remaining features. These exclude the one to two policemen and several village guards or barangay tanods which are unarmed and are considered as civilians of Pagasa island. These also exclude naval personnel aboard Philippine Navy and Philippine Coast Guard vessels and pilots of the Philippine Air Force's jets which regularly patrol the area.
Balikatan exercises 
US and Filipino soldiers on a jointamphibious assault exercise last 2004 in Palawan, only a few miles east of the Spratly Islands.
Balikatan Exercises, a.k.a. Operation Enduring Freedom - Philippines (OEF-P) is part of Operation Enduring Freedom and the U.S. Global War on Terrorism. Since 2001, United States and Philippines have done joint military exercises in different parts of the Philippines. The war games are primarily aimed at combating terrorists. (Balikatan is the Tagalog term for shoulder-to-shoulder).
However, some analysts see this agreement as a move of the Philippines in its desperate quest to protect its claimed territories. During the 1970s and 1980s, the Soviets who have bases in Vietnam and the United States which has bases in the Philippines have maintained a balance of power in the Spratly region. After the collapse of the USSR and eviction of United States forces from the Philippines in 1991, most claimants, especially China, have aggressively taken actions occupying features and building more structures. In 2001, two years after China's building of additional structures in Mischief Reef that caused a news panic in Manila, the Visiting Forces Agreement was ratified by both United States and the Philippines. Since then, a joint military exercise is always held annually.
Many of the war games involved amphibious assault exercises. Some of these amphibious assault exercises were held in Palawan which lies near the Spratlys. Analysts say Philippines does not need amphibious assault in jungle warfare with Philippines' secessionist groups. China has protested past Balikatan exercises that were held near the Spratlys.
The Philippines has invoked its mutual defense treaty with the US to obtain US assistance in repelling Chinese forces from islands claimed by the Philippines. Signed in 1951, the treaty stipulates the two countries to defend each other in case of an attack from an external party. However, US does not include the Spratly Islands in its understanding of Philippine territory. Instead, the US limited itself in continuously supporting the Philippine defense programs with military and intelligence aid and training, and a variety of diplomatic measures aimed at sending a "strong message" to Beijing. Such "strong messages" and the ASEAN intervention are believed to have calmed China's previously aggressive drive in the Spratly region.
Grounded ships 
China has accused the Philippines of intentional grounding of the latter’s naval ships in features in the Spratly group to advance an occupation. Two ships, the BRP Sierra Madre and BRP Benquet, were grounded on Ayungin (Second Thomas) Reef and Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal during 1999. China had urged the Philippines to remove the grounded ships. The Philippines immediately replied that it will do whatever it can to remove the ships. However, the one on Scarborough Shoal was the only ship removed. The Philippines decided to occupy Ayungin Reef following Malaysia’s sudden occupation of Erica Reef and Investigator Shoal during the same year. Soldiers assigned by the Philippines in Ayungin Reef still take shelter at the grounded ship up to this day.
BRP Benguet was successfully removed from Scarborough Shoal. This is in compliance with the demand of Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji before his official visit to Manila. While it is true that China, at first, demanded the removal of the two ships, China later just demanded the removal of the ship in Scarborough Shoal. It is believed that China dropped its insistence to remove the ship in Ayungin Reef because, likewise, the Philippines may urge China to remove the structures the latter built over Mischief Reef, which is located near Ayungin Reef. BRP Benguet went aground again in Pagasa Island in 2004 and has remained there up to this day.
Pagasa Island 
As of 2008, the only Philippine-occupied Spratly island to have many structures is Pagasa (Thitu) Island, the lone barangay of Municipality of Kalayaan, Palawan. All Philippine-occupied Spratly islands are integrated as one municipality to the province of Palawan. Cities and municipalities in the Philippines are divided into smaller political units called barangays. However, because Pagasa is currently the only civilian-inhabited island, Kalayaan is the only municipality in the Philippines to have a single barangay and that is Pagasa. Pagasa has about 300 civilian residents and 40 soldiers. The civilian population is always less than 200 at a time since other Kalayaan residents have businesses to attend to on the Palawan mainland. The population is regulated to protect the island’s environment, to avoid short supplies of commodities and to conserve land space. Pagasa is only 37 hectares and can only accommodate a maximum of 500 people at a time. Most of the civilian population consists of poor Filipinos who were convinced by Mayor Mantes to settle in the islands since 2002. Before, Pagasa Island barely had a civilian population even though Kalayaan was already an established municipality. The settlers are provided a means of livelihood by the government. Most of them are involved in fishing and other sea-related crafts. To make some additions to their supplies which are provided by a naval ship which visits once a month, the settlers also raise pigs, goats and chickens and plant some crops in an allotted space.
Because of its thriving civilian community, the only one in the Spratly group, Pagasa has many structures compared to other Philippine-occupied islands. These include the municipal multi-purpose hall, a school and clinic, a military outpost, a water treatment plant, a deep well, a marina, a 1.26 km airstrip, a commercial communications tower, power generator, houses of civilian families, pig barns and goat and poultry houses. However, the number and size of Pagasa’s structures are still relatively few and small compared to structures of other countries’ occupied islands. One unique feature of Pagasa Island is its 1.26 kilometres (1,378 yd) unconcretized airstrip. Aerial photos of Pagasa Island show that a rectangular portion of the coral base around Pagasa is reclaimed to serve as an extension of the airstrip. Pagasa's airstrip is the longest airstrip in the Spratly group, followed by Taiwan's Itu Aba (Ligao) Island's 1.150 kilometres (1,258 yd) airstrip (completed in January 2008), Malaysia's Swallow Reef's 1.067 kilometres (1,167 yd) airstrip and Vietnam's Spratly (proper) (Lagos) Island's 610 metres (667 yd) airstrip. Pagasa's airstrip can accommodate Philippine Air Force (PAF) fighter jets and even the huge C-130cargo planes. Right now, numerous plans are proposed for Pagasa. One plan is construction of a hangar beside the airstrip to house more surveillance and fighter jets of the PAF. Another plan is to concretize the airstrip to avoid rough landings of planes.
For the Philippine Navy, they are proposing making a causeway that leads all the way to a deep water region where naval vessels can dock. Pagasa island is completely surrounded by its wide coral basemaking it hard for naval vessels to get near the island. Actually, one naval vessel, the BRP Benguet, attempted to dock near the island in 2004 but it was damaged and went aground. Up to this day, the damaged ship is still there. The Philippine government currently has no resources to move the damaged ship. And in 2001, civilian Filipinos who first settled on the island had needed to make numerous boat trips between the coast and the ship to move their belongings and properties. The pigs they have carried to the island were actually thrown in the water. The pigs float in water and they instinctively swim to the nearest land they can see.
The Kalayaan residents (led by their mayor) are proposing to have the island developed for tourism. The island has a white beach; trees and birds are abundant. It has good diving spots too. An AFP military chief said that the army together with its navy would help bring more tourists to the white sands and pristine waters of Pagasa Island starting April 2008. In addition, there have been plans of building stiltcottages in Pagasa Island, like the ones in El Nido and Puerto Princesa in Palawan. Several housing units were already built to accommodate tourists. One to two commercial flights between Pagasa andPuerto Princesa City are available weekly for tourists.
Other islands and reefs 
Parola, Likas, Kota and Lawak Islands are expected to be populated within the following next two decades. However, the latter two islands may take a longer time to be populated because they are less than eight hectares, requiring a need for land reclamation to expand their areas. This will make the Municipality of Kalayaan to have a total of five barangays. On the other hand, Patag and Panata Islands are too small to be populated. They are most likely to remain as military outposts unless the Philippines opt to do some massive land reclamation projects on the islands. Rizal, Balagtas and Ayungin Reefs will likely remain as fishing zones occupied by Philippine forces. Land reclamation on these reefs, like what Malaysia did to Swallow Reef where Malaysia turned it into an artificial island with 6.2 hectares area, will reduce the Philippines' fishing space. Thus, such reclamation projects might be opposed by Filipino fishermen who regularly fish in the said reefs.
Filipino soldiers guarding the islands always feel bored in their assignment. Their niche is very small. There is very little to do in the islands. Though all features of the Philippines have a satellite dish to provide soldiers access to television shows, and a satellite telephone for them to have continuous contact with their family and superiors, these have not been enough to lift their boredom.
The soldiers on Rizal Reef, on the other hand, enjoy fishing. Rizal Reef has white sandbars which are above water level when the tide is not extremely high. These sandbars enclose many lagoons which according to the soldiers are like "swimming pools" for the clear water they enclose. When the weather is bad (e.g., typhoon), there comes the boredom. They have no choice but to stay inside their small quarters on stilts. However, they are not totally bitter when the weather is bad since it is also their source of clean water. The roof of their quarters is made such that it can catch raindrops and stock them in a huge container. The soldiers said that, unlike food which can be provided by their fishing and a vegetable garden beside their barracks, fresh water is their number one concern. When they run out of fresh water supplied by the Philippine Navy or Coast Guard, they begin drinking the water caught from the rain. And during these times is when they limit their baths as much as they can.
Soldiers on Ayungin Reef have similar problems regarding clean water. However, unlike the soldiers in Rizal Reef who have small quarters, the soldiers in Ayungin Reef have a much better lifestyle. Their shelter is the grounded BRP Sierra Madre, a Philippine naval vessel. They have individual beds, a karaoke machine, and a dining area.
The Philippine government tries to compensate for this boredom by giving the soldiers a salary way above their normal salary. Actually, this has been the reason why some of the soldiers always volunteer to take the job despite the boredom.
Oil exploration 
The Philippines began exploring the areas west of Palawan for oil in 1970. Exploration in the area began in Reed Bank/Tablemount (Reed Bank is the largest seamount within the Spratly Islands) in 1976, gas was discovered following the drilling of a well. However, China's complaints halted the exploration.
Map showing oil and lead fields in Reed Bank
Today, Malampaya oil platform is the only operational oil platform in the Philippines. It is extracting natural gas from the Camago-Malampaya oil leg (CMOL) (or simply Malampaya Field), located 80 kilometres (50 mi) west of northern Palawan. It is not claimed by other countries. It contains 3.7 trillion cubic feet (1.0×1011 m3) of natural gas reserves. The Malapaya Project began the Philippines' natural gas industry and enabled the supply of at least 2,700 megawatts of power for a period of at least 20 years starting 2002. In December 2001, an extended well test of the thin oil rim beneath the field initially yielded about 8 million barrels (1,300,000 m3) of oil per day (bpd). It is also believed to be the deepest horizontal subsea well test undertaken in the world at a depth of about 850 m.
The upstream component of the $4.5 billion USD Malampaya gas-to-power project was jointly developed by Shell Philippines Exploration B.V. (SPEX),ChevronTexaco and PNOC EC. The project was formally inaugurated on October 16, 2001. Shell Philippines Exploration owns 45% of the project, ChevronTexaco owns 45% and PNOC-EC owns 10%. Malampaya is expected to provide substantial long-term revenue of between $8–10 billion USD to the Philippine government over its life span. Other sites eyed by PNOC-EC west of Palawan are the Calamian, West Calamian, West Balabac, and East Sabina sites.
Another oil field being explored today is Reed Bank, which exploration was halted in 1980's after China's objections. The concession is currently awarded to Forum Energy plc, a UK-based oil, gas and coal company. The Reed Bank concession is located in the South China Sea west of Palawan Island. The licence is located to the southwest of the Shell-operated Malampaya Gas Field.
The concession was first awarded to Sterling Energy plc (which later merged with another company to form Forum Energy) in June 2002. In 2003 Sterling reprocessed 250 km of 2D seismic data and completed a feasibility study on the gas-to-liquid options for the gas field. The seismic work and the gas-to-liquid study fulfilled the initial work commitments on the concession and Sterling was granted a 12 month extension in June 2004. In 2005 Forum acquired new 3D seismic data over the licence area fulfilling its work commitments required under the 12 month extension. In September 2006, results of the interpretation of the 3D seismic programme at the Sampaguita (an area inside Reed Bank) gas discovery indicated a world class gas accumulation with potential reserves of up to 20 trillion cubic feet (5.7×1011 m3).
Unlike Malampaya, Reed Bank is claimed by the People's Republic of China, Republic of China, and Vietnam. There is still no news on whether these countries are disputing this exploration or not. In March 2011, two Chinese vessels chased off the Veritas Voyager, a survey ship hired by Forum Energy—a UK based company with a portfolio of projects in the Philippines. Forum Energy intends to return to Reed Bank in 2012 to explore for energy resources. The U.S. military has also signalled its return to the area, with war games scheduled in March with the Philippine navy near Reed Bank.
Fisheries enforcement 
Arrests of Chinese fishermen 
Many Chinese vessels fish in the South China Sea. Some of these enter internal Philippine waters like the Sulu Sea, and not just disputed waters in the Spratly islands. The Philippines, in general, is tolerant in allowing Chinese vessels to fish in disputed areas including Scarborough Shoal and waters in the vicinity of Philippine-occupied Spratly islands. They are, however, arrested if the Philippine Navy or Coast Guard determines that they are doing illegal fishing activity (i.e., using dynamites, or cyanide poison).
The Philippines is less tolerant in waters east of the 116°E meridian, the Sulu Sea and the waters between Philippine islands (non-Spratly). Within these areas Chinese fishing vessels normally fly a Philippine flag to avoid suspicion, or try to escape into Malaysian or Indonesian waters when hailed to elude arrest. When caught the fishermen are usually charged with trespassing in Philippine territories.
The press in the Philippines regularly reports arrests of these fishermen, with violations ranging from failure to allow Philippine authorities to inspect their ships when inside Philippine waters, to using illegal fishing methods (dynamite, trawl net, or using cyanide poison), to fishing in marine reserves, or more commonly, poaching of endangered sea species like sea turtles. These fishermen are usually labeled as "Chinese poachers" by the Philippine press. Most of them are arrested in the Sulu Sea (an internal sea within the Philippines), with some apprehended in Scarborough Shoal. Rarely, arrests are made in theVisayas seas.
When poachers are arrested in the Spratly region, they are turned in to Puerto Princesa City, Palawan; if in the Sulu Sea, to Puerto Princesa City, Palawan or Zamboanga City whichever is nearer; if in Scarborough Shoal, to Subic, Zambales.
Apprehended poachers are put to trial quickly, to avoid further political disputes with China. Normally cases are disposed of within two months, with almost all being convictions. However, Philippine courts generally only confiscate the vessels, and fines the offenders a sum of money that is always paid by the Chinese government.
In other situations, the courts approve bail even before a trial could start, and the fishermen are repatriated. Environmentalists in the Philippines have always criticized the Philippine government for allowing Chinese fishermen to be released on bail, saying that they must still be punished under Philippine laws. China has always protested the Philippines' arrest of its fishermen, whether these were arrested in the Spratly region controlled by the Philippines, in Scarborough Shoal, or in the internal Sulu Sea.
Arrests of Vietnamese fishermen 
There had been occasions of arrests of Vietnamese fishermen by the Philippine Navy and Coast Guard, however this is not as frequent as arrests of Chinese fishermen. The arrests are also caused largely by poaching activities. The latest arrest of Vietnamese fishermen happened in 2007 at the province of Bataan.
Map showing possessions 
Spratly islands map showing occupied features marked with the flags of countries occupying them.
While the world focuses on rising tension between China and the Philippines and other claimants in the South China Sea, Beijing and Delhi are also engaged in a quiet struggle in the contested waters. By putting up for international bidding the same oil block that India had obtained from Vietnam for exploration, China has thrown down a gauntlet. By deciding to stay put in the assigned block, India has indicated it's ready to take up the Chinese challenge. At stake is Chinese opposition to India's claim to be a regional power.
The conflict between India and China over the South China Sea has been building for more than a year. India signed an agreement with Vietnam in October 2011 to expand and promote oil exploration in the South China Sea and has now reconfirmed its decision to carry on despite the Chinese challenge to the legality of Indian presence.
AP FILE PHOTO
MANILA, Philippines – With the Philippines’ arbitration bid progressing before the United Nations, Beijing has blasted Manila for its legal recourse to settle maritime disputes in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), and accused the Philippines of deviating from the agreed upon guidelines of discipline, as well as provoking tensions in the disputed waters.
In strongly worded remarks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying scored the Philippines for its “indifference” to China’s position and charged Manila with discrediting Beijing before the international community.
“We are firmly opposed to the Philippines’ indifference to China’s lawful rights and interests and legitimate concerns as well as its willful act of pushing for international arbitration,” said Hua in a statement posted on the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s website on Tuesday.
“It is difficult for China to understand how the Philippines could continue to play up the issue of the South China Sea, distort the facts and smear China,” she added.
Hua issued the comments as a rebuff to Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesperson’s eight-point statement on Monday, where the official defended the Philippines’ move to seek UN arbitration to halt Chinese incursions into its maritime zones in the disputed waters and invalidate China’s nine-dash line claim.
The five-member arbitral tribunal has just initiated proceedings on the Philippines’ case at The Hague, continuing despite China’s refusal to take part in the process.
Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez said Monday that “it has become impossible to continue bilateral discussions” with China given its “rigid” and “hard line position of indisputable sovereignty” over the West Philippine Sea following more than 17 years of failed negotiations and consultations.
He maintained that the Philippines has always been committed to peacefully resolving the discord and to work towards a binding Code of Conduct to institutionalize the bounds of discipline among claimant states, upgrading the current Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).
Hua’s retort on Tuesday continues a string of fiery exchanges between Manila and Beijing of late, including verbal swaps between Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi behind closed doors in June’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) ministerial meetings in Brunei.
As he appealed for a peaceful resolution to the dispute, Del Rosario also recently scored China’s incursions in the West Philippine Sea before members of the European Parliament, Belgian officials and maritime experts in Brussels, saying Beijing’s military buildup presents a challenge to freedom of navigation in critical international sea lanes in the disputed waters.
China maintains vessels at the Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal off Palawan and the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Zambales, the site of a tense standoff between the two countries last year, despite repeated appeals from the Philippines for Beijing to respect the country’s exclusive economic zone.
But Beijing saw the Philippines’ moves as an act meant to taint China.
“It is difficult for China to understand how could the Philippines continue to play up the issue of the South China Sea, distort the facts and smear China,” said Hua.
“It is regrettable that over recent years, the Philippines has changed its attitude and approach in handling the issue, gone back on its consensus with China, broken its commitment in the DOC, cast aside the framework of dialogue upheld by a majority of countries, refused to cooperate, aggravated the situation and set off the incident of the Huangyan Island (Panatag Shoal) by harassing Chinese civilians with warships, casting a shadow over China-Philippine relations and peace and stability of the South China Sea,” Hua said.
Hua further blamed the Philippines for provoking tensions in the waters, scoring the country’s presence in parts of the Spratly Islands (Nansha to the Chinese).
“The Philippines’ illegal occupation of some of the islands and reefs of China’s Nansha Islands is the direct cause to the South China Sea dispute between China and the Philippines. China sticks to the longstanding position of safeguarding national territorial sovereignty, which is totally legitimate,” said Hua.
She asserted Beijing’s commitment to regional peace and stability and its long-standing position of seeking bilateral negotiations to settle the international maritime dispute, which also involves claimants Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.
On the contrary, the Philippines has long been seeking a multi-lateral approach, engaging venues like the Asean to take a unified approach in settling the dispute with China.
Since last year, the Philippines has filed a flurry of diplomatic protests to Chinese actions concerning the West Philippine Sea, including the establishment of a new city to administer almost all of the disputed territories, the stamping of maps bearing the questioned nine-dash line on new Chinese passports and the conduct of military drills and patrols in contested waters.
The dock on Pearson Reef
View from Amboyna Cay
On May 23, 2011, the President of the Philippines, His Excellency Benigno Aquino III, warned visiting Chinese Defence Minister Liang Guanglie of a possible arms race in the region if tensions worsened over disputes in the South China Sea. Aquino said he told Liang in their meeting that this could happen if there were more encounters in the disputed and potentially oil-rich Spratly Islands.
Military cemetery on Central London Reef
In May 2011, Chinese patrol boats attacked two Vietnamese oil exploration ships near the Spratly Islands. Also in May 2011, Chinese naval vessels opened fire on Vietnamese fishing vessels operating off East London Reef (Da Dong). The three Chinese military vessels were numbered 989, 27 and 28, and they showed up with a small group of Chinese fishing vessels. Another Vietnamese fishing vessel was fired on near Fiery Cross Reef (Chu Thap). The Chief Commander of Border Guards in Phu Yen Province, Vietnam reported that a total of four Vietnamese vessels were fired upon by Chinese naval vessels.[verification needed] These incidents involving Chinese forces sparked mass protests in Vietnam, especially in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and in various Vietnamese communities in the West (namely in the U.S. state of California and in Paris) over attacks on Vietnamese citizens and the intrusion into what Vietnam claimed was part of its territory.
In June 2011, the Philippines began officially referring to the South China Sea as the "West Philippine Sea" and the Reed Bank as "Recto Bank"