The Daily Manila Shimbun


Esperon confirms presence of Chinese ships off Pagasa, but no occupation of Sandy Cay

August 20, 2017

China has not seized a sandbar in Pagasa Island occupied by the Philippines in the disputed South China Sea, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said on Sunday.

But Esperon confirmed the presence of Chinese Coast Guard and Navy ships near Sandy Cay, which Manila claims as part of Pagasa Atoll.

He said many fishing boats from the Philippines, China and Vietnam were near the Sandy Cay.

"There are also Chi(nese) Coast Guard and PLA (People's Liberation Army) Navy ships," Esperon said.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has urged the Duterte administration to act against the presence of Chinese ships near Sandy Cay, a sandbar some 4.6 kilometers from Filipino inhabited Pagasa Island, which is part of the Kalayaan municipality in Palawan province.

He has said that Chinese ships' presence in the area was an "invasion of Philippine territory by China."

"We claim that Pagasa is part of Kalayaan Municipality. China claims it to be part of their territory inside the 9-dash line. Therefore the area remains as a disputed area. But of course we are not giving up the sandbars (Sandy Cay)," Esperon said.

"The Chinese came too near, but did not occupy it," he added.

Asked if the government would send its own coast guard or navy ships to prevent China from eventually occupying the place and to protect the Filipino fishermen there, Esperon said, "we have our Fisheries people in Pagasa. They can enforce fishery laws in Pagasa Atoll."

China has been claiming almost the entire South China Sea, including those within the 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zones of other countries, like the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan, through its nine-dash line.

In the July 2016 ruling, the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal, following the Philippine petition under the Aquino administration, declared as invalid China's sovereign claim practically over the entire South China Sea.

When President Rodrigo Duterte assumed the presidency last year, he decided to have a "soft landing" with the Philippine relations with China and disregarded momentarily the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration award.

Duterte's softer stance on the territorial dispute was apparently awarded by China by pledging multi-billion dollar assistance to the Philippines. Celerina Monte/DMS