The Philippines said Friday it was establishing a coast guard station on the largest island it holds in the disputed South China Sea to improve monitoring of Chinese vessels asserting Beijing’s claims in the waters.
National Security Adviser Eduardo Año made the announcement during avisit to Pag-asa Island, which is part of the hotly contested Spratly Islands.
The coast guard station would be equipped with “advanced systems,” including radar, satellite communication, coastal cameras and vessel traffic management, Año said.
The station has been built and is expected to be operational early next year.
“These systems will greatly enhance the Philippine Coast Guard’s ability to monitor the movements of the Chinese maritime forces, other countries that might be coming here, and also as well as our own public vessels and aircraft,” he said.
The collection of real-time data would have “an impact on the behavior” of rival claimants, especially the Chinese, Año said, hailing it as a “game changer”.
Beijing claims most of the South China Sea, including waters and islands close to the shores of its neighbours, and has ignored an international tribunal decision that its assertion has no legal basis.
It deploys vessels to patrol the waters, and has built artificial islands and military installations to reinforce its stance.
The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam have also stakedclaims to various islands and reefs in the sea that is believed to have rich petroleum reserves deep beneath its waters.
Relations between Manila and Beijing have frayed in recent months over a series of incidents in the waters, including two collisions between Philippine and Chinese boats, with the countries trading blame.
Año accused Chinese coast guard and other vessels of engaging in “illegal” and “aggressive” behavior towards Filipino fishermen and patrol boats. Rio Araja and Vince Lopez
“It’s pure bullying,” Año said. “We shall not waver, we will stand our ground. We will not be deterred by any power that tries to oppress and outmuscle us.”
He also accused China of creating “divisions” among Filipinos amid tensions in the West Philippine Sea.
“China’s multifaceted approach includes information operations that are specifically designed to create divisions within our nation, as we strive to unite the Filipino people in our stance on the West Philippine Sea issue,” he said.
“It is critical for us to convey a powerful and united message that counters their falsehoods and eventually unites our fellow Filipinos in this important issue.”
For his part, Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez on Friday appealed to President Marcos to certify a bill defining the country’s maritime zones as urgent.
“Presidential certification of the measure will expedite its approval by the Senate and its final passage by the two chambers of Congress,” he said.
The House of Representatives passed the proposed Philippine Maritime Zones Act in May, while the Senate is still tackling its version of the bill.
“The urgency of enacting a law that defines our maritime areas, including our 200-mile exclusive economic zone cannot be overemphasized in view of the aggressive activities of China in the West Philippine Sea and its continued encroachment on and intrusion into our EEZ,” he said.