Jun 132013
A ranking official of the National Security Council on Thursday detailed China’s “aggressive behavior” in the West Philippine Sea, as he called for additional defense spending to uphold the Philippines’ interests in the region.

Retired Navy Rear Admiral Vicente Agdamag, now Deputy Director General of the NSC Secretariat, said China’s actions confirmed its “clear intention to consolidate its control” over the disputed areas in line with the Chinese government’s nine-dash line claim.

“It started, actually, in March 2011 when a Chinese patrol ship challenged MV Veritas Voyager conducting a survey for Forum Energy, 85 nautical miles off Palawan,” he said, referring to an incident at the Reed Bank in the Spratly Islands.

Defense and military officials said two Chinese ships harassed the Department of Energy-commissioned survey ship. The Chinese ships told the crew of the Filipino ship to cease their activities because that was part of Chinese territory.

The Chinese vessels left when the AFP Western Command, based in Puerto Princesa City, promptly dispatched a Navy BN-2 Islander maritime patrol aircraft and an Air Force OV-10 light attack/reconnaissance aircraft. No armed confrontation was reported.

Agdamag also cited how Chinese ships prevented a Philippine Navy vessel, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, from arresting Chinese fishermen caught illegally fishing at the Scarborough Shoal, locally known as the Bajo de Masiloc, in April last year.

The incident triggered a standoff between the China and Philippines, though China now is in virtual control of the shoal. The Philippine government withdrew its two ships from the shoal due to inclement weather, leaving China in complete control of the area, which is about 124 nautical miles from Zambales.

“Lately, we received reports that [Chinese] surveillance ships are imposing a 24 kilometer wide ban on fishing in the area. They are imposing an exclusion zone already in Bajo de Masinloc,” said Agdamag.

As of April this year, he said there were nine Chinese vessels at the shoal – five Fisheries Law Enforcement Command (FLEC) vessels and four Chinese Maritime Surveillance ships.

He also cited China’s establishment of Sansha City in Woody Island near China and Vietnam “to oversee and exercise the administrative control” over its claimed islands in the West Philippine Sea.

Agdamag also noted China’s issuance of passports showing a nine-dash line map and threats to board foreign vessels in the disputed areas.

He also said Pagasa town Mayor Eugenio Bitoonon was harassed twice by Chinese vessels – once in November last year and the latest just last May – at the disputed areas.

Last February, Agdamag said three Chinese Navy ships entered the West Philippine Sea to conduct patrol and training missions and anti-piracy drills. A month later, several Chinese “modern warships” were also dispatch to the Bashi channel, between Taiwan and the Philippines, for training missions.

Also last March, a Chinese destroyer, two frigates, an amphibious ship and helicopters and amphibious tanks conducted an eight-day military drill in the Spratly Islands. The Spratlys is being claim in part or in whole by the Philippines, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.

“Right now, there are 18 maritime surveillance ships operating in our area,“ the official also said. He did not say if there were FLECs or Chinese military ships still within Philippine territory.

Further increase in defense expenditures

Agdamag said the issue is being addressed by political, diplomatic, and legal actions taken against China.

He said the military is establishing a “minimum deterrent capability,” alluding to the military’s modernization program. President Aquino recently signed the modernization law allocating P75 billion for the implementation of the military modernization program until the end of his term in 2016.

Nevertheless, the official said his office is recommending a further increase in defense expenditures. “We are recommending that we commit an increase in our investment for defense, from .5 to 1 percent of the GDP (Gross National Product),” he said.

Agdamag explained that their proposed increase is on top of the budget of the defense and military establishment which is equivalent to 1.1 percent of the national budget.

“We are recommending an additional of .5 to 1 percent (of GDP), not only to be at par with our neighbors, [but] more importantly to develop a modicum of a credible defense capability to protect our maritime and strategic interest,” he said.

Agdamag added that the country also needed to enhance its security relations with other countries, specially with the US, “when it is still able to deter China”, to buy time for the Philippines to develop its military capability.

“We need to pursue a healthy and friendly relationship with China and work with her for regional peace and prosperity…. to buy us time to grow our economy and expand our military capabilities,” he explained further.

“So right now, we are buying time, we need at least 10 years with sustained economic growth of 7 to eight percent in order to grow our capability upgrade program.”

Also, Agdamag disclosed an ongoing review of the “contingency plans” of the AFP’s Northern Luzon Command and Western Command, as per Executive Order 82 issued by President Aquino last year.

NOLCOM has responsibility over the Scarborough Shoal, while WESCOM has the West Philippine Sea as its area of concern. — DVM, GMA News

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