Palace leav­ing in­creased SCS pres­ence to se­cu­rity agen­cies

The Philippine Star - - NEWS - By ALEXIS ROMERO and MAYEN JAYMALIN

Mala­cañang is leav­ing it to se­cu­rity agen­cies to deal with the re­ported “mas­sive” pres­ence of Chi­nese ships in South China Sea ar­eas that are be­ing claimed by the Philip­pines.

A re­cent ar­ti­cle by Amer­i­can think tank Asia Mar­itime Trans­parency Ini­tia­tive (AMTI) ex­pressed con­cern over the “un­seen” fish­ing ac­tiv­ity in the re­gion, “mas­sive over­ca­pac­ity” in the Spratlys and the “stun­ning scale and ex­pense of the mar­itime mili­tia” in the dis­puted area.

Based on pho­tos taken in the area, AMTI said most of the ships op­er­at­ing in the Spratlys are from China, many of which con­gre­gate in la­goons at Zamora (Subi) and Pan­gani­ban (Mis­chief) Reefs, and in nearby wa­ters in­clud­ing around Philip­pine-held islets, the think tank said.

The num­ber of Chi­nese ships at Zamora and Pan­gani­ban was re­port­edly much higher last year than in 2017, reach­ing as high as about 300 ships an­chored at the two reefs last Au­gust.

Ac­cord­ing to the think tank, the size and quan­tity of Chi­nese ships ob­served in the Spratlys sug­gest a “mas­sive over­ca­pac­ity” be­cause the more than 270 fish­ing boats present at Zamora and Pan­gani­ban Reefs in Au­gust could catch nearly 1.2 mil­lion met­ric tons per year or be­tween 50 and 100 per­cent of the to­tal es­ti­mated catch in the Spratly Is­lands.

The “gross over­ca­pac­ity” and the ships’ ten­dency to con­gre­gate around reefs oc­cu­pied by China and other claimants led to the con­clu­sion that most of these ves­sels serve, at least part-time, in China’s mar­itime mili­tia, the think tank said.

Pres­i­den­tial spokesman Sal­vador Panelo said state agen­cies over­see­ing the South China Sea would re­spond ac­cord­ingly if a se­cu­rity threat arises.

“I’m sure who­ever is au­tho­rized to over­see that area knows what to do if they feel there is a se­cu­rity threat... We also go to ar­eas they claim to be theirs and they al­low us to fish. There is no prob­lem if they are just fish­ing,” Panelo said at a press brief­ing, cit­ing the de­fense depart­ment in par­tic­u­lar as among those mon­i­tor­ing the de­vel­op­ments.

Panelo said claims that not all Chi­nese ships in Spratlys were car­ry­ing fish­er­men were mere spec­u­la­tions un­til val­i­dated.

Mala­cañang also de­scribed as “spec­u­la­tive” con­cerns that Chi­nese firms might take over the busi­ness of fi­nan­cially trou­bled South Korean ship­builder Han­jin Heavy In­dus­tries and Con­struc­tion Philip­pines (HHIC-Phil).

In a re­cent so­cial me­dia post, for­mer Navy chief Alexan­der Pama de­scribed the de­vel­op­ment in­volv­ing Han­jin as a “na­tional se­cu­rity is­sue,” not­ing that the own­ers of the com­pany’s ship­yard in Su­bic Bay have un­lim­ited ac­cess to one of the Philip­pines’ most strate­gic ge­o­graphic naval and mar­itime as­sets.

“Al­though it is a com­mer­cial ship­yard, noth­ing can pre­vent the own­ers from mak­ing it into a de-facto naval base and a mar­itime fa­cil­ity for other se­cu­rity pur­poses. Let us all be aware and wary of the se­ri­ous se­cu­rity and other strate­gic im­pli­ca­tions of this is­sue,” Pama said.

“I urge our pa­tri­otic busi­ness com­mu­nity and the gov­ern­ment not to al­low Han­jin Ship­yard to fall into the wrong hands,” he added.

The trade depart­ment pre­vi­ously said two Chi­nese firms have in­quired about the lo­cal af­fil­i­ate of Han­jin, which has filed for vol­un­tary re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion be­cause of heavy fi­nan­cial losses.

The chair of la­bor coali­tion Nagkaisa, Sonny Mat­ula, also cau­tioned the gov­ern­ment against al­low­ing China to own Han­jin.

Mat­ula ex­pressed be­lief that al­low­ing the ship­yard to fall into the hands of China could trig­ger se­cu­rity con­cerns.

“In tak­ing over the ship­yard, we en­cour­age the gov­ern­ment to ex­plore tech­ni­cal co­op­er­a­tion with other ship build­ing coun­tries that have no ter­ri­to­rial am­bi­tions in the re­gion such as Nor­way,” Mat­ula said.

Mat­ula noted that Nor­way has a ro­bust ship­build­ing in­dus­try and had helped the gov­ern­ment in try­ing to forge peace with the Na­tional Demo­cratic Front (NDF).

Asked to re­act to Pama’s con­cerns, Panelo said: “The claim that they (Chi­nese firms) would take over (the busi­ness of Han­jin) is just spec­u­la­tion.”

“We are not con­cerned about other coun­tries yet we are con­cerned about China?” he added.

Panelo claimed a Filipino firm also wants to take over the busi­ness of Han­jin’s lo­cal af­fil­i­ate but did not elab­o­rate.

“Many ship­ping firms in the Philip­pines can af­ford that so let’s wait,” he added.

Mean­while, La­bor and Em­ploy­ment Sec­re­tary Sil­vestre Bello III said he is set to meet with se­nior depart­ment of­fi­cials this morn­ing to dis­cuss pos­si­ble con­tin­gency mea­sures to cush­ion the im­pact of the HHIC-Phil mul­ti­mil­lion debt prob­lem that could lead to the mass dis­place­ment of its work­ers.

Based on in­for­ma­tion reach­ing the DOLE, about 7,000 work­ers could be af­fected in case Han­jin is left with no re­sort but to de­clare bank­ruptcy.

The ship­build­ing com­pany ter­mi­nated over 11,000 work­ers last year.

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