MANILA, Philippines — The Department of National Defense (DND) will continue to observe the rule of law despite China’s construction activities in Panganiban (Mischief) Reef and six other disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea.
“We continue to launch a protest against the massive reclamation (of China). You all know that we follow the rule of law,” Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said after the launch of the DND hymn in Camp Aguinaldo on Monday.
“We can’t act on a wrongdoing by another wrongdoing,” he added.
Gazmin admitted that China’s reclamation in the West Philippine Sea poses a threat to regional security.
“It will have a big effect on regional security. The region will be affected in terms of security, in terms of freedom of navigation and freedom of the air space,” the defense chief said.
“We are worried and we continue to stick to our initial reaction which is to apply the rule of law,” he added.
The Philippines has been advocating a rules-based approach in addressing the territorial row and has criticized China for building structures in disputed areas.
Philippine officials said China’s construction activities constitute a blatant violation of the declaration of conduct of claimants in the South China Sea, which bars actions that could cause tensions and change the status quo in disputed areas.
Gazmin said the Philippines’ position has gained widespread support from members of the international community including the United States.
“One of the most powerful countries in the world supporting a small country is very significant isn’t it?” he added.
Gazmin said for now, security forces would continue to monitor developments in the disputed areas.
Earlier, the military revealed that China is implementing construction projects in at least seven reefs in the disputed Spratlys archipelago.
Beijing is building artificial islets over Mabini (Johnson South), Burgos (Gaven), Kennar (Chigua) and Calderon (Cuarteron) Reefs and is conducting reclamation in Zamora (Subi), Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef and Panganiban (Mischief) Reef.
The Philippines, which maintains one of the weakest militaries in the region, has filed an arbitration case against China’s far-reaching maritime claims, which span virtually the entire West Philippine Sea. The claim overlaps with that of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
Last week, US President Barack Obama expressed concerns over China’s actions, saying the emerging Asian superpower is “not necessarily abiding by international norms and rules and is using its sheer size and muscle to force countries into subordinate positions.”
“”We think this can be solved diplomatically, but just because the Philippines or Vietnam are not as large as China doesn’t mean that they can just be elbowed aside,” Obama said.