By Daniel Llanto | FilAm Star Correspondent
As the Duterte administration came under fire for its “silence and inaction” as China apparently completes its militarization in the South China Sea, Malacañang admitted it could not do anything and instead tossed the blame on the previous administration for allowing the reclamation spree.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the Philippine-owned seven reefs in the South China Sea, also called West Philippine Sea, were reclaimed by China during the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III.
“If the Aquino administration was not able to do anything about these artificial islands, what (do) they want us to do? We cannot declare war. Not only is it illegal but it is also… because it’s impossible for us to declare war at this point,” Roque told a press briefing.
Opposition lawmakers slammed the administration amid reports that China was almost done with its militarization of artificially built islands in the West Philippine Sea and urged the government to disclose its dealings with Beijing.
Sen. Bam Aquino wondered if the Philippines had already been sold and urged the government to disclose any deal it might have struck with the Chinese.
“While their warships are in our seas, we continue to give in to their whims and, all the while, we are kept in the dark as to our government’s dealings with China,” Aquino said.
“It’s time for the administration to disclose its offers to China and divulge what the Philippines is surrendering to it,” Aquino said in a statement as he urged the Senate to act on a Senate resolution he filed in September 2016 calling on the body to investigate the government’s foreign policy direction.
Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano cited the Duterte administration’s “silence and inaction” on reports that China’s militarization of its man-made structures in the West Philippine Sea was almost complete.
“This administration is not doing anything because of loans and investments from China which we have to pay for eventually. Based from the experiences of other countries that have dealt with China, when they failed to pay for the loans they contracted, China demanded for other payments – mining rights, use of agricultural lands, and fishing rights. These loans will strangle us in the end,” Alejano said.
He said that this attitude of the Duterte administration was encouraging China to continue its militarization and similar activities in the area.
“There is no stopping China, more so if the Philippines continues to give leeway, remain subservient, or worse, co-opted by China. Thus, friendly relations with China will not deter it from militarizing SCS,” he said
He warned that China’s objective was to control the disputed features in the waters based on its so-called historical rights. He added that the artificial islands would provide shelter and logistics and basically serve as bases of support to Chinese presence in the waters.
Alejano, a former Marine officer, said that China was forcing other claimants to accept its actions by challenging norms and trying to establish new ones without respect for the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and other international laws.
He added that China would deplete the resources and destroy the marine environment in the area, which would become crucial once the supply of natural gas in Malampaya dried out.
Once the resources in the West Philippine Sea had been sucked dry, China would turn to the waters off Luzon’s eastern seaboard as a source of natural resources especially Benham Rise.
“We are seeing this now in the guise of marine scientific research and freedom of navigation. If we do not push for policies to protect our territory, our eastern seaboard could also suffer the same fate as that of the WPS,” he said.
The opposition lawmaker urged the public to be vigilant about the actions of the administration and its future implications as he warned that Duterte’s decisions could have long-term repercussions.
But Malacañang said it was relying on China’s promise not to reclaim new areas as the two countries continue to forge closer political and economic ties.