China to build on disputed shoal in South China Sea

UNTV News   •   March 17, 2017   •   3742


Boats at Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea are shown in this handout photo provided by Planet Labs, and captured on March 12, 2016. REUTERS/Planet Labs/Handout via Reuters

China will begin preparatory work this year for an environmental monitoring station on Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, an official said, as two U.S. senators introduced a bill to impose sanctions on its activities in the disputed waterway.

Last month, a Philippine minister said Chinese President Xi Jinping had promised his Philippine counterpart China would not build structures on the rocky outcrop both countries claim, but China called the comments “baffling and regrettable”.

China seized the shoal, which is northeast of the Spratly islands, in 2012 and denied access to Philippine fishermen. But after President Rodrigo Duterte visited China last year, it allowed them to return to the traditional fishing area.

This week, Xiao Jie, the mayor of what China calls Sansha City, said China planned to begin preparatory work this year to build environmental monitoring stations on a number of islands, including Scarborough Shoal.

Sansha City is the name China has given to an administrative base for the South China Sea islands and reefs it controls.

The monitoring stations, along with docks and other infrastructure, form part of island restoration and erosion prevention efforts planned for 2017, Xiao told the official Hainan Daily in an interview.

A spokesman for the Philippine foreign ministry, Charles Jose, declined to comment, saying it was trying to verify the reports.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives in Beijing on Saturday for a two-day visit, where the South China Sea, almost all of which is claimed by China, is likely to figure.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also claim parts of the waters, which have rich fishing grounds, along with oil and gas deposits. About $5 trillion worth of trade passes through the waterway each year.

The United States has criticized China’s construction of manmade islands and its build-up of military facilities there, expressing concern they could be used to restrict free movement.

This week, U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Ben Cardin introduced the South China Sea and East China Sea Sanctions Act that would ban visas for Chinese people contributing to building development projects in the South and East China Seas.

It would also put sanctions on foreign financial bodies that “knowingly conduct or facilitate a significant financial transaction for sanctioned individuals and entities” if China steps up activity at Scarborough Shoal, among other actions.

The senators’ proposal was “extremely grating,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Friday.

“I think the proposal put forward by individual senators shows their arrogance and ignorance,” Hua told a daily news briefing in Beijing.

China resolutely opposes the proposal, which infringes international law and international relations norms, she added.

Tension over the South China Sea reached a flashpoint after the Philippines filed an arbitration case against China in the Hague and as China started militarizing artificial islands it built up on reefs in the region.

China is also involved in a separate dispute with Japan over a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Christian Shepherd; Additional reporting by Manuel Mogato in MANILA; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Lacson backs gov’t move to block release of P80-B congressional realignments

Robie de Guzman   •   February 19, 2020

Senator Panfilo Lacson

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday revealed that at least P80 billion in congressional realignments have been withheld by President Rodrigo Duterte and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

In a statement, Lacson said some lawmakers tried to realign at least P80 billion from the Duterte administration’s “Build, Build, Build” program to their districts’ “pet projects” under the P4.1 trillion 2020 national budget.

But instead of exercising his veto power over the line items which could stall the approval of the budget, the lawmaker said Duterte decided to just block the release of the budget by way of a DBM circular now called “for later release,” which has the same effect of a veto.

“I support the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte and the Department of Budget and Management to withhold the release of these congressional realignments,” he said.

“This is one reason why I continue to support the leadership of President Duterte in spite of some disagreements with him over some policy issues: He has time and again displayed the strong political will, even against many self-proclaimed allies in Congress whose loyalty clearly lies where the money lies,” he added.

Lacson advised the president to “always be wary of these so-called allies” who have the propensity to praise him to high heavens and never criticize him but with self-aggrandizement and greed as their only motivation and nothing else.

The House of Representatives has yet to issue a comment on Lacson’s claim. – RRD (with details form Correspondent Harlene Delgado)

It’s more fun in the Philippines: Duterte invites Filipinos to visit local tourism sites amid Covid-19 fears

Robie de Guzman   •   February 14, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has called on Filipinos to visit local tourism sites amid fears of international travel and restrictions due to the threat of novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

In a taped message posted on social media, Duterte urged the public to help boost local tourism by visiting the country’s scenic spots and discovering other awe-inspiring hidden gem attractions.

“To my fellow Filipinos, I encourage you to travel with me around the Philippines. I assure you that everything is safe in our country, be it an issue of health, be it an issue of law and order and be it an issue of accessibility,” the President said.

“Come with me and be my travel companion. I’ll be traveling around the Philippines. Pasyal tayo dito sa atin. Unahin natin ‘yung atin. Mabuhay ang Pilipino. Mabuhay ang turismo ng Pilipinas,” he added.

The chief executive issued the call after the tourism sector reported at least P10 billion in revenue losses due to an entry ban on travelers to and from China, the country’s largest tourism market, after it was hit by coronavirus outbreak.

Duterte said local airline companies and hotel operators have agreed to offer discounted rates to counter the negative effects of the COVID-19 outbreak, and to promote the country’s tourism sector to local tourists.

“Maraming magagandang mapuntahan sa Pilipinas, wala kayong dapat alalahanin,” he said.

The Philippines has imposed an entry ban on foreigners who travelled from China, Hong Kong and Macau within 14 days in an effort to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus strain. It later expanded the ban’s coverage to include Taiwan.

Lacson hits move to scrap VFA that exposes PH to security threats

Robie de Guzman   •   February 13, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Panfilo Lacson on Thursday expressed his belief that the Philippines is now exposed naked to threats after being stripped of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States.

In a statement, Lacson said the country will no doubt survive without the military pact given the resilience of the Filipino people and its soldiers.

“We know how to improvise and we can adapt to crises the way we did many times before,” he said.

However, he pointed out that without the US assistance from now on, the Philippines will continue to be exposed to terrorists and other threats to national security.

“[I]n the meantime, we remain exposed to terrorist threats, both domestic and foreign, not to mention the continuing security threat in the West Philippine Sea posed by China, and even the need for timely humanitarian response and assistance that the US is capable of deploying during disasters, natural or man-made,” he said.

He also said that the abrogation of the country’s military pact also affects the maintenance and repairs of military hardware, mostly air assets provided by the US under the AFP modernization program.

The VFA between Washington and Manila came into force in 1999. It outlines the guidelines about the treatment of their troops when visiting the US or the Philippines. It includes provisions on visa and passport policies for US troops and the American government’s right to retain jurisdiction over its personnel, among others.

The deal may be terminated by either of the two countries by writing to the other party signifying their intent to end the agreement. Its expiration will come 180 days from the date of notification.

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday shrugged off the Philippines’ scrapping of the VFA, saying it would “save a lot of money.”

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) earlier said it is now eyeing to sign similar defense treaties and increase engagement for joint exercises with other countries as a replacement for the terminated agreement with the US.

But Lacson pointed out that establishing a similar military pact would take a long time.

“Exploring other options like inking similar defense treaties with other nations as posited by the AFP Chief of Staff is fine but the reality is, it doesn’t happen overnight,” he said.

“It will take a series of back-and-forth negotiations in pursuit of the concerned parties’ self and national interests before going through lengthy deliberations for ratification by the Senate,” he added.

President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the termination of the VFA following the US’ move to cancel the visa of his ally, former National Police chief and now Senator Ronald dela Rosa. Duterte has also repeatedly criticized the US for its ‘disrespectful’ actions including meddling in the country’s internal affairs.

“While admittedly, the VFA is not perfect for the Philippines as far as equitability is concerned, the timing and reasons for its abrogation are way off the mark,” Lacson said.

“The thing is, it is not the smartest move of the President to expose ourselves naked first before looking for other options for cover,” he added.

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