FOREIGN Secretary Perfecto Yasay recently revealed that the Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest with China through a third person note verbale, upon verification of the report by the Washington-based CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative that China appears to have built anti-aircraft and anti-missile weapons on its man-made islands in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. One of these man-made artificial islands is Mischief Reef, which is a low-tide elevation within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and forms part of the Philippines’ continental shelf.
This low-key reaction of the Philippines is in accord with the policy of the Duterte administration to settle its maritime and territorial issues with China through quiet diplomacy. However, China should satisfactorily explain why the structures do not support China’s justification that they are intended as refuge shelters for fishermen.
So far, the Philippine government has taken a cautious approach to the bilateral negotiations, since the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) arbitration decision, which the Philippines won, covers only issues relating to the rights of the Philippines with respect to its EEZ and continental shelf.
The arbitral decision did not cover issues of sovereignty, whether of Scarborough Shoal or the Spratly Islands. Our immediate concern is that China should not convert Scarborough Shoal into a military base. This would directly undermine the Philippines’ security and territorial integrity.
The United States has taken the position that its Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines does not cover our Kalayaan Islands unless the Armed Forces of the Philippines stationed there are attacked.