Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Filipino troops in disputed seas unmoved by China’s expansion

By Alexis Romero 
The Philippine Star
Armed Forces Western Command chief Vice Adm. Alexander Lopez talks to his men in Pag-asa Island Wednesday. Romero
Armed Forces Western Command chief Vice Adm. Alexander Lopez talks to his men in Pag-asa Island Wednesday. Romero
PAG-ASA ISLAND, Palawan – Amid the dramatic expansion of China’s presence in the West Philippine Sea, security forces protecting Philippine territories in the area have vowed to perform their duty “come hell or high water.”
Speaking to his troops, Armed Forces Western Command chief Vice Adm. Alexander Lopez said their presence affirms the Philippines’ ownership of the island, which is part of the disputed Spratlys archipelago.
“While it is true that other claimants destabilized the region, your stay here will sustain our effective presence and will show that this is a territory of the Philippines and that makes your duty here patriotic,” Lopez told government forces here last Wednesday.
“We will not abandon this territory of the Philippines come hell or high water. It will remain as such and we will fight until our last breath,” he added.
Lopez assured his troops that their welfare is important to the military leadership.
“We’ve been praying that we would get new equipment or hardware so we can sustain your presence here. What you’re doing is not easy,” the military official said.
Lopez made the statement amid reports that China is gaining significant progress in its construction projects across the Spratly Islands despite calls to halt activities that would stir tensions.
Satellite images released recently by defense intelligence provider IHS Jane reflected the fast-phased construction of Chinese projects in Hughes (Kennan), Mabini (Johnson South) and Burgos (Gaven) Reefs, areas that the Philippines considers as parts of its territory.
China has been occupying and building structures in disputed areas to assert its territorial claim, which spans virtually the entire West Philippine Sea. The Philippines has challenged what it described as China’s “excessive” and “exaggerated” territorial claim before an international arbitral tribunal.
In an interview with reporters, Lopez said China’s construction activities go against efforts to maintain regional stability. He said security forces would continue to abide with the declaration of the code of conduct despite China’s aggressive expansion.
“Our concern is their (China) developments in the West Philippine Sea are continuous and these developments are aggressive and somehow deliberate. It adds to the destabilization of the region,” Lopez said.
“We filed an arbitration case and the policy o the government is we will maintain the moral high ground. We are not doing anything that will violate the (declaration of the code of conduct) agreed upon by claimant countries,” he added.
In 2002, Southeast Asian countries and China signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, to ease tensions in the disputed area. The claimants agreed to refrain from any activity that would complicate the territorial dispute.
Lopez claimed that the Philippines is not losing territories even if China has built structures in some of them.
“We will not lose them. We will not lose anything. Even if we have to die for it, the world will know this is ours,” he said.
“Even if they have built structures on them, they are till ours because we are on the side of what is right.”

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