By Angie M. Rosales
The Daily Tribune
SENATE SIGNS NEW MILITARY TREATY WITH U.S. ALLY
China’s presence build-up in the South China Sea has raised alarms in government, prompting the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to summon yesterday the Chinese ambassador to protest against China’s plans to establish a military garrison on the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.
The DFA said it summoned Ma Keqing to lodge the complaint, and also to object to the arrival of a military-escorted Chinese fishing fleet near the contested Spratly Islands.
As tension with China was again seen escalating, the Senate sealed the Palace’s ratification of another mutual partnership for the military, which some senators noting its urgency as a result of developments in the South China Sea.
Voting 17-1, senators concurred with Malacañang’s ratification of the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA) with Australia, which was signed some two years ago or during the Arroyo administration.
The Chinese defense ministry announced plans to operate troops from Chinese-held Sansha or Woody Island in the Paracels on Monday, a month after Beijing designated the island as China’s administrative centre for both the Paracel and Spratly groups.
While the Philippines does not have territorial claims on the Paracels, DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said the Chinese plan to administer both island groups from Sansha was unacceptable.
“The Philippine government has expressed its grave concern and registered its strong protest over the Chinese government decision to establish a military garrison in Woody Reef,” Hernandez said.
China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea, which is believed to hold vast amounts of oil and gas, while the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam each claim portions.
Disputes have flared in recent weeks, with Vietnam and the Philippines criticizing what they call Chinese encroachment.
China and South Vietnam once administered different parts of the Paracels but after a brief conflict in 1974, Beijing took control of the islands.
The DFA said it summoned the Chinese ambassador over the garrison plans as well as to receive a strong objection to China’s dispatch of a military-backed fishing fleet in Spratly waters.
The Filipino coast guard monitored a fleet of 29 fishing vessels, a cargo vessel, and three other ships including one Chinese navy vessel near Fiery Cross Reef and Subi Reef on July 18, Hernandez said.
“The use of armed government vessels to escort fishing vessels that conduct non-fishing activities is a violation of Philippine territory and a violation of obligation of states under international law,” Hernandez said.
Sen. Joker Arroyo voted down the SOVFA as senators appeared divided as to how the treaty would prove beneficial to the Philippines in the light of the current tension with China over some territorial disputes.
Sen. Teofisto “TG” Guingona III, in explaining his vote, emphasized that the public should be given a clear understanding that the SOVFA “is simply a recognition of a potentially beneficial and mutual partnership that can be continued between the Philippines and Australia, in the field of military training, education, and exercise, and in humanitarian activities. No more. No less.”
Arroyo, in maintaining his stance against the said treaty, questioned the timing of the Senate’s concurrence to its ratification, saying that the Philippines should not be seen “grabbing at straws.”
“We have not ratified the SOVFA between Australia and the Philippines for two years because we did not see the need for it. But because of our problem with China which claims some islands in the West Philippine Sea which are ours, we suddenly want to ratify it. Why?,” Arroyo said.
“Are we trying to say that other than the US, we also have other allies like Australia? Asean, our regional friends and geographically close to us, hesitate to lend us their token support. Why should we enlist Australia, which is so far away and an out and out ally of the U.S. to be our ally too? Although the agreement is not a defense pact, its symbolism cannot be lost on China. Let us not grab at straws. We must persevere,” he said.
Sen. Loren Legarda, chairman of the foreign relations committee and principal sponsor, said the SOVFA will “complement the needs” of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
The SOVFA paves the way for AFP troops to conduct joint military exercises not just with the US but also with Australian troops to hone up the Armed Forces’ defense capabilities.
“Concurrence with the ratification of the SOVFA will not only pave the way for us to improve our defense mechanisms, it will also solidify our decades old relationship with Australia, especially in the fields of trade and industry,” Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said.
Some senators said the treaty with Australia is even better than the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) the country has with the United States.
Unlike in the VFA with the US, the SOVFA states that Philippine courts will not be deprived of having jurisdiction to try and hear cases such as murder, rape, sexual harassment, and the like which are filed against members of the Australian Visiting Forces, the senator said, adding that the agreement with American government “continues to assault the freedom and sovereignty of this Republic, the SOVFA cures the VFA’s critical ills in the areas of jurisdiction, custody, and detention.”
Sen. Edgardo Angara, on the other hand, admitted that the basis for his concurrence to the said treaty was that he and many of them perceive the “threat posed by a very powerful country that already extends its claims already close to the doorstep of our territory.”
Sen. Francis Pangilinan expressed belief that SOVFA will serve both the security interests of the two countries especially in addressing terrorist threats.
“This document may be far from perfect however it is definitely a far cry and an improvement from the VFA the Philippines entered into with the US. I therefore cast an affirmative vote,” said Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero.
It was Sen. Franklin Drilon who took note of the fact that SOVFA was introduced during the previous administration and which the Aquino government felt deemed wise to be supported.
Enrile underscored historical records where Australia have proven to be a more “reliable” ally than the US, even dating back the time of the Japanese occupation.
In his lengthy explanation of vote, the Senate chief recalled the time when he fought against the Japanese as a young soldier, it was through the assistance of the Australian government that led the US to “reconquer” the Philippines.
“If not for the presence of state called Australia, perhaps it could have taken a long, long time if ever, for the US to re-conquer the Phils. That’s one of the contributions of Australia to our welfare,” he said.
Latest surveillance monitoring over Panatag Shoal, located approximately 124 nautical miles off Masinloc town in Zambales, showed that a Chinese fishery and law enforcement command (FLEC) vessel and two maritime surveillance ships were spotted in the area.
“As latest aerial surveillance showed, there were three Chinese vessels monitored in Panatag Shoal,” said a security official, who requested anonymity.
However, there was no mention of the presence of Chinese fishing vessels in Panatag Shoal but the official said “they come and go in the area.”
Chinese vessels – both government controlled and commercial ships – have not left the area since the standoff with the Philippines erupted last April 9 when Filipino sailors accosted eight Chinese fishing boats caught with corals, giant clams and live sharks.
On the other hand, the Philippines has not maintained its presence in Panatag Shoal to assert the country’s claim over the area which is known to be rich in marine resources.
During the initial stages of the standoff, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) ships were deployed in Panatag Shoal, apparently to assert the country’s claims over the area and protect local fishermen from Chinese harassment.
Aquino, however, ordered the pull out of the PCG and BFAR ships last June 15 due to bad weather.
During his Sona on Monday, Aquino reiterated the country’s ownership of Panatag Shoal as he called on the public to be one with the government in asserting claim over the area. He, however, did not order redeployment of PCG or BFAR assets there.
Aquino said that his administration is doing consultations with government leaders and foreign allies to address the dispute peacefully.
Meanwhile, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) vowed continuing performance of its mandate of protecting the country territorial waters despite non-deployment of naval assets in Panatag Shoal.
“We do not waver on our commitment to uphold the integrity and sovereignty of our national territory. We’re gearing for AFP modernization to acquire that minimum defense posture towards protecting what is ours,” said AFP spokesman Col. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos.
In the online edition of the China Daily, two top Chinese diplomatic experts were quoted as describing the Philippine President as non-confrontational but still remains stubborn to give up its claim over the Spratlys, referred to by the Chinese authorities as the Huangyan Island.
Yang Baoyun, an expert on Southeast Asian studies at Peking University, was also reported by the Chinese media as urging the government of China to take extra caution on the Philippines amid the most recent presidential statement, contained in President Aquino’s SONA on Monday.
“China should be fully prepared for the latest strategy of Manila,” Yang said.
Another diplomatic scholar, Chen Qinghong an expert on Southeast Asian studies with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations expressed apprehension over what he described as “hawkish voices” compelling Aquino to take a firm position over what they have always been referring to as the South China Sea.
Apparently referring to congressional efforts pushing constitutional changes giving broader power to Aquino in allocating more funds to buy military hardware to be used in fortifying defense capabilities, Chen assailed the move as provocative enough, even as they described Manila’s decision to send Philippine government ships at the Huangyan Island as an infringement of China’s sovereignty.
“Beijing lodged protests in Manila over the move, which infringed on China’s sovereignty, but the impasse didn’t end as Manila continued to send government vessels to the Huangyan Island lagoon” says part of the story.
Although Manila’s rival claim over the island has initiated a series of reactions both domestic and from China, Yang said mere mention of the island annoys China.
Aquino’s Sona did not insist on direct confrontation with China on the issue.
Aside from trade embargo, Chinese government has issued a travel advisory on its national against going to the Philippines, which resulted in the significant drop in the tourist arrivals.
With By: Fernan J. Angeles, Mario J. Mallari and AFP
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Manila protests Chinese garrison in Sansha City
By Sara Fabunan
Manila Standard Today
Manila on Tuesday issued another diplomatic protest against China over its recent announcement that it was building a military garrison in the newly-established city of Sansha.
China’s State Council or Cabinet expanded Sansha’s control over the islands in the South China Sea (Western Philippines Sea) despite strong objections from Manila and Hanoi.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said the Philippines had expressed “grave concern” and “strong protest” over Beijing’s latest actions.
Del Rosario also asked the Chinese government to exercise “self-restraint” to avoid any further escalation over the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
“We hope that China, as a responsible country, will exercise self-restraint on the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability in the region,” he said.
The Philippine had protested the establishment of Sansha city in early July, saying the expansion of the city violated Philippine sovereignty rights over the Kalayaan Island Group and Bajo de Masinloc and infringed on Philippine sovereign rights over the waters and continental shelf of the West Philippine Sea.
“The Philippines does not recognize the Sansha City and the extent of its jurisdiction, and considers recent measures taken by China as unacceptable,” Del Rosario said
Hanoi had made a similar protest through its Foreign Ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi.
“China’s establishment of the so-called “Sansha City” violated international law, seriously violating Vietnam sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly archipelagos,” Nghi said.
China ignored both protests and recently formed a legislative body that elected the city’s new officials.
According to China’s official website, the legislative body on Monday elected the city’s first mayor, director, deputy mayors, head of the city’s intermediate people’s court and members of the procuratorate.
Elected as mayor was 51-year old Xiao Jie, while the 56-year old Fu Zhang was chosen as the director of the standing committee of Sansha Municipal People’s Congress, the city’s legislative body.
The new officials were voted by the 45 deputies who made up the Municipal People’s Congress.
The new mayor’s jurisdiction could cover a huge part of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) which affects parts of the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.
Manila’s protest was the 11th note verbale it sent to the Chinese Embassy, which followed a similarly strong-worded protest when China deployed 29 fishing vessels, a supply ship and two maritime ships near Kagitingan and Zamora reefs off Palawan province.
The deployment of the Chinese fleet in the Spratlys was more of a political statement than an economic one as claimed by Chinese analysts.
On Tuesday, though, Beijing showed off to a group of foreign media in Tongzhou base its latest military hardware, including brand-new attack helicopters, which western experts said was part of its increasingly aggressive stance in asserting its over the South China Sea.
“Our military’s aim is to protect peace. The training exercises we carry out are normal and in line with what we always do,” Zhang Zhilin, commander of the Army Aviation 4th Helicopter Regiment, told reporters.
Zhang’s unit operates Harbin Z-9 attack helicopters, a licensed-built version of the Eurocopter Dauphin II, and older Russian Mi-17 transport helicopters, which also flies China’s astronauts back to base when they return to Earth.
A month ago, China presented its first modern modern military attack helicopter, the Z-10, which experts say is developing into one of the world’s most modern and capable combat helicopter.
Although way behind in its military’s modernization program, the Philippines has also started boosting its arsenal and plans to acquire refurbished C-130 planes, Huey helicopters, combat helicopters, communication equipment, rifles and mortars, cannons, personnel carriers and frigates.
Later this year, the country’s newest Hamilton class cutter, the BRP Ramon Alcaraz, is expected to drop anchor and join the BRP Gregorio del Pilar in policing Manila’s maritime territories.
In his State-of-the-Nation Address, President Aquino, had said his government would continue to pursue and “defend its sovereign rights over the 200-nautical miles exclusive economic zone provided by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
“There are those who say that we should let Bajo de Masinloc go; we should avoid the trouble. But if someone entered your yard and told you he owned it, would you agree? Would it be right to give away that which is rightfully ours?” Mr. Aquino said.
“This is not a simple situation, and there can be no simple solutions. Rest assured: we are consulting experts, every leader of our nation, our allies—even those on the other side—to find a resolution that is acceptable to all.
“This is not about picking up a fight or showing off. This is not about bullying. This is about attaining peace. This is about our capability to defend ourselves.”
But anti-Philippine sentiment in Beijing appears to be high.
The Chinese Daily has urged Beijing to stop extending aid to Manila.
The newspaper said it [the Philippines] “does not deserve too much attention from China.”
Another China daily, the Global Times, said in its editorial that “there is no need to dole out generous aid” to the Philippines. With the AP