By Daniel Llanto | FilAm Star Correspondent
A Chinese businessman’s bid to put up $12.16 billion worth of investment hubs in Subic Bay, Zambales and Fuga and Grande islands in Cagayan is being studied by Malacañang for possible security risks.
These are strategic islands, Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said and so, “we will wait for the National Security Adviser and the Secretary of National Defense to give their comments on the security issue affecting those three areas.”
A senior Philippine military official, who declined to be identified, said China could eventually use Fuga island to support its geopolitical agenda in the Pacific if the investment progresses.
Chinese investors were reportedly eyeing the islands of Fuga in Cagayan province, and adjacent Grande and Chiquita in Subic Bay, Zambales province as investment hubs.
The investments are part of the $12.16 billion worth of investments secured by the Philippines during President Duterte’s visit to Beijing in April for the second Belt and Road Initiative forum.
One of the agreements is the proposed $2-billion “Smart City” to be built by Xiamen-based Fong Zhi Enterprise Corp. on Fuga Island. Fuga is the second northernmost island in the Philippines surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea.
Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana said he would have Intel make an assessment on the security implications of China’s occupation of Fuga as well as Subic and Grande.
Panelo for his part said they would wait for Lorenzana’s advice on the subject.
China has been pushing for its expansive claims in the South China Sea, refusing to recognize the July 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) that favored the Philippine position, challenging Beijing’s claim over nearly the entire resource-rich and strategic waterway.
Duterte has chosen to set aside the PCA decision in exchange for Chinese economic perks such as loans and Beijing-funded infrastructure projects.
Duterte is set to visit China this August, his fifth trip to the Asian superpower since he assumed office in June 2016.
Asked if the disputes in the South China Sea would be discussed during the forthcoming visit of Duterte to China this month, Panelo said: “That could be part of the discussion.”
“Well, the same – all visits of the President if it’s working, then it refers to discussion with the visited country relative to issues that affect both – issues that will benefit both countries; issues of conflict; issues of cooperation; issues of support especially with respect to terrorism, to fighting drugs, to cultural exchanges, people-to-people and financing too – funding,” he added..
Panelo said developments on the Memorandum of Understanding regarding the proposed joint oil exploration in the West Philippine Sea “could be part of the discussion.”
Officials suspected that Chinese businessmen were not only taking feasibility studies on doing business in the Philippines but also keeping an eye on local military installations for unknown reasons.
Earlier, two groups of Chinese dressed as tourists were caught taking photos inside a naval facility at Parola in Palawan. According to Palawan News, the Chinese nationals were seen roaming around and taking photos inside the Philippine Navy’s Tide Pole naval facility in Parola.
Naval officers reportedly confronted the Chinese nationals caught in the military facility.
The Parola naval facility is under the jurisdiction of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Western Command, which is in charge of the islands of Palawan, including the Spratly Islands.
The Philippine military maintains presence on Pag-asa or Thitu Island in the West Philippine Sea, which is under the jurisdiction of the municipality of Kalayaan. The government is currently repairing a dilapidated runway on Pag-asa Island, one of the largest features in the Spratly group.
China responded to the Philippines’ rehabilitation efforts on Pag-asa Island by deploying vessels, believed to be part of its maritime militia, in the vicinity of the island. The military earlier confirmed that Beijing might be monitoring repairs on the island by sending naval, coast guard and fishing vessels in the area.