Palace: Thank China for reef rescue post


President Duterte’s spokesperson on Thursday said the Philippines “maybe should be thankful” for the “maritime rescue center” that China had launched on Philippine-claimed Kagitingan Reef in the South China Sea.

The state-run Chinese news agency Xinhua announced the opening of the facility on Tuesday.

Not bad?

It said China also deployed another rescue ship to Philippine-claimed Zamora Reef, internationally known as Subi Reef, in October last year to replace an old one and that it would permanently station a search-and-rescue vessel to Panganiban Reef, also claimed by the Philippines and known internationally as Mischief Reef.

Asked for comment by reporters on Thursday, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the rescue center was not bad and that the Philippines “maybe should be thankful” to China for it.

Panelo said he agreed with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana that it “could help seamen in distress” in the South China Sea. He pointed out that the defense department had said it would “do nothing” because it was “helpful.”

Panelo also said he did not think China’s operation of the rescue center would affect the Philippines’ claim to the reef but added that the matter was for the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to determine.

There was no immediate comment from the DFA, but Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said the department should file a diplomatic protest with China.

Speaking to reporters in San Juan City on Thursday, Carpio said the Philippines should press its claim that it has sovereignty over Kagitingan Reef.

Act of administration

“At the very least, putting up a maritime rescue center on Fiery Cross Reef is an act of administration,” Carpio said, using the international name of Kagitingan Reef.

“If we do not protest such Chinese action, then we are impliedly agreeing that China can exercise and, in fact, exercises, acts of administration over Fiery Cross Reef,” he said.

“An act of administration is an essential element in acquiring sovereignty. So if we impliedly or expressly agree to such act of administration by China, we are helping China strengthen their sovereignty claim to Fiery Cross Reef to our own prejudice,” Carpio added.

Kagitingan is one of seven Philippine-claimed reefs in the Spratly archipelago that China took over and developed into artificial islands to present the world with a fait accompli should the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague rule against it in the 2013 Philippine challenge to its claim to nearly 90 percent of the 3.5-million-square-kilometer South China Sea.

The Philippines brought the challenge after China grabbed Panatag Shoal, a traditional fishing ground for Filipinos about 230 kilometers from the coast of Zambales, after a two-month maritime standoff in 2012.

Internationally known as Scarborough Shoal, Panatag is well within the Philippines’ 370-km exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea, but because the Philippines had no military muscle to defend it, the administration of then President Benigno Aquino III fought for it by questioning China’s sweeping claim in the UN arbitral court.

PH won case

The court ruled for the Philippines, telling China that its claim had no basis in international law and that it had violated the Philippines’ sovereign right to fish and explore resources in the West Philippine Sea, waters within the country’s EEZ in the heavily disputed South China Sea.

Instead of pressing the Philippine victory when he came to office, however, President Duterte traveled to China and glad-handed with officials and businessmen there—and returned home with billions of dollars in pledged aid, loans and investments.

And that was the beginning of Chinese Spring for the Philippines.

Kagitingan Reef is not within the Philippine EEZ, but it is part of the Kalayaan Island Group claimed by the Philippines, Carpio said.

The senior justice is part of the legal team that argued the Philippine challenge before The Hague court.

A Filipino community occupies the largest island in the group, Pagasa (Thitu) Island, which is part of Kalayaan town on Palawan Island.

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