The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is eyeing to build structures in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) as a way of asserting the sovereignty of the country in the disputed areas which are now swarmed by Chinese vessels.
AFP chief of staff Gen. Cirilito Sobejana Jr. said putting up structures within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the country is one of the strategies which they have been entertaining in order to strengthen the Philippine position in the disputed areas, especially in protecting Filipino fishermen which were reportedly being driven away by Chinese vessels.
“We are also entertaining the idea na magtatayo ng structures sa naturang lugar katulad ng ginagawa din ng China kase ang dahilan kung bakit hindi tayo nagtatayo dyan nung araw kse may usapan na wala dapat magpatayo (We are also entertaining the idea to build structures in the area (WPS) like China has been doing because the reason why we are not building is that there was an agreement before that there should be no construction of new structures),” Sobejana told reporters in a virtual press briefing.
“Subalit yun ay nilabag ng China kaya dapat magpatayo na tayo starting now (But it was violated by China so we need to build starting now), and again that is subject to the consideration of the NTF (National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea),” he added.
Experts said China started to build its structures in the West Philippine Sea after the Pinatubo eruption and the decision to expel United States forces in Subic in the 1990s. China also accelerated its construction of various facilities in mid-2010.
On the Philippine side, the only structures built by was that at the Pagasa Island and the old ship at the Ayungin Shoal.
Sobejana also admitted the limitations of the AFP in asserting the sovereignty of the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea.
But he stressed that despite such limitations, the AFP has been doing everything it could not only to protect Filipino fishermen but also to ensure that they continue with their fishing activities.
“We are guarding the massing of Chinese fishing vessels and the Chinese maritime militia because even if we could not drive them away physical because of our limitations, we want to ensure that our fishermen would continue do what they are doing and to ensure that our maritime protection program is not violated,” said Sobejana.
But Sobejana said they are also exhausting other means to resolve the territorial dispute in the WPS in the diplomatic and peaceful way.
President Duterte has been the subject of harsh criticisms and social media bashing for his alleged silence and submissive mentality when it comes to China’s aggressive assertion of sovereignty in almost the entire South China Sea, a claim that was rejected by a United Nation tribunal.
Recently, rumors have been circulating that there has been a growing unrest among military officials over Duterte’s soft stand against China—but a claim that was rejected even by some critics due to military’s alleged closeness with Duterte.