MANILA: The Philippine military on Thursday said that it had documented “illegal” structures being built in the northeastern section of the Spratly Islands in the eastern part of the South China Sea.
The man-made structures were discovered in Pagkakaisa Banks (Union Banks) within the Kalayaan Islands group, Palawan province, on Wednesday during an aerial patrol over the waters that are claimed by the Philippines in a South China Sea dispute with Beijing.
While he did not directly accuse the Chinese of raising the structures, the country’s armed forces chief, Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, said that their presence was “prejudicial to peace.”
“These structures are illegal,” Sobejana said. “The Law of the Sea gives the Philippines indisputable and exclusive rights over the area. These constructions and other activities, economic or otherwise, are prejudicial to peace, good order and security of our territorial waters.”
“We have already updated our higher civilian authorities such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Department of National Defense about these offenses to our sovereignty,” he said.
The military has been closely monitoring activity in the area as the National Task Force on West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) says Chinese maritime militia vessels have been entering it.
“The Philippines calls on China to immediately withdraw these vessels flying its flag. NTF-WPS stands by its observation that these so-called ‘fishing’ vessels are maritime militia,” the task force said in a report on Wednesday, adding that the build-up and massing formation of the vessels from the Whitsun Reef to other areas of the Kalayaan Island group is “hazardous to navigation and safety of life at sea.”
Video footage released by the military showed boats spread around the Whitsun Reef, a large boomerang-shaped submerged feature located at the northeast tip of Pagkakaisa Banks area.
The islands and reefs of this part of the sea are among the world’s most contested features, with parties to the South China Sea dispute — Vietnam, China, Taiwan, the Philippines and Malaysia — raising structures and artificial islands in the strategic and resource-rich waterway to assert their territorial claims.
As last week the NTF-WPS recorded more than 200 fishing vessels in the Whitsun Reef, believed to be manned by Chinese militias, the Philippines has sought the support of the US against China rapidly expanding its claim in the region.
US and Philippine national security advisers discussed their concerns over Chinese activity in the South China Sea on Wednesday.
As US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan spoke by phone with Philippine National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, the White House said, he “reaffirmed the applicability of the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty in the South China Sea.”
Under the defense pact signed by Washington and Manila in 1951, both nations would extend military support to each other if either of them is attacked by an external party.