Amid growing international concerns on China’s building brand new islands in the South China Sea along some of the world’s most vital trade routes, Pag-asa Mayor Eugenio Bito-Onon Jr. is on the front lines of a dangerous international dispute.
This developed as a high military official called on public support through the use of social media to create awareness among the public on government’s territorial row with superpower China.
Bito-on in an interview with Seth Doane of American television network CBS News, said that more than 100 Filipinos living on Pag-asa, a tiny, 90-acre speck in the South China Sea, are there to claim this land for the Philippines.
“When it’s military to military, it’s a normal war,” he said. “It’s the civilians that seem to be the buffer.”
Controlling these waters means controlling huge deposits of oil and gas, rich fisheries,
and vital shipping lanes, the report said.
The Chinese have been filling in reefs and shoals to create islands — the closest is just about 13 miles away.
Bito- onon called the Chinese reclamation activities in the areas surrounding his island as “manufacturing sovereignty.”
Islands are sprouting up around him that are “bigger than what God has made in this place naturally,” he chuckled.
We are not soldiers, Bito-onon said adding that “they are soldiering on in a quiet fight to maintain control of this island.”
Asked if he feels if his people are ever in danger, he said: “We just pray that it will not go to a shooting war.”
On the other hand, Vice Admiral Alex Lopez, commander of the Western Command based in Palawan, called on all Filipinos to use social media to bring awareness about the Philippines’ rightful claim in the disputed West Philippine Sea.
Lopez spoke during Tuesday’s Multi-Sectoral Forum on the West Philippine Sea Issue jointly organized in this city by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Philippines Information Agency (PIA).
He said that with the dawn of digital age, Lopez urged netizens to share contents online, particularly on Facebook, about the territorial row that is now getting simmering with China’s massive reclamation activities in the features the country own, as defined by the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
“By sharing it with your friends on Facebook, you’re also making them known “ano talagang meron dito sa ..” (… what is really here in the) West Philippine Sea issue,” Lopez said.
The commander, meanwhile, scored Filipino netizens, whom he said are doing nothing but rant online.
“Some of our constituents — some of them are legislators and militant groups — ngakngak lang nang ngakngak, wala namang solusyon na ibinibigay (they complain and complain, but are not offering any solution).
They always complain,” he said, adding that “if you have a solution, please come up [because] your government is listening.”
In January 2013, the Philippine government lodged an arbitration case against China before the Netherlands-based UN Permanent Court of Arbitration.
After passing its 4,000-page memorial in 2014, the legal team headed by Solicitor General Florin Hilbay is set for oral arguments next week, from July 7 to 13 in Hague.
China has since snubbed the arbitration case with its non-compliance of its counter-memorial due in December 2014.
China has continued its massive creeping reclamation activities that are reportedly nearing completion.
United States said recently that China has built 2,000 acres (800 hectares) of artificial islands out of the then submerged islets.
What makes the Philippines infuriated even more is when China dredges up pulverized coral reefs as aggregates to the artificial islands, where facilities is being built that the latter says will be used for civilian and military purposes.
In spite of all, the Philippines has done no development activities that will change the status quo of the features it claim, pursuant to the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea, and also not to jeopardize the pending arbitration case.
The arbitration tribunal is expected to decide on the case with finality in the first quarter of 2016.