On March 20, 2015, the MBF marked its 100th forum, a milestone hosted by VADM. Jesus Millan and RADM. Ronald Mercado, and held at the Philippine Navy Headquarters. The 100th, 101st and 102nd MBF Fora discussed at length, among others, China’s dredging, reclamation, and construction activities in the disputed islands located in the West Philippine Sea.
LCDR. Del Prado (PN) presented the current developments in the West Philippine Sea to-date. He pinpointed the disposition of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea, specifically in Bajo de Masinloc and the Kalayaan Island Group. Using maps, he also showed China’s construction and reclamation activities in the Spratlys, including Mabini Reef, Gaven Reef, Kagitingan Reef, Panganiban Reef, and Zamora Reef; construction at Kennan Reef and Calderon Reef; Taiwan’s ongoing pier construction at Itu Aba; and Vietnam’s reclamation in the Spratlys as well.
VADM. Alexander S. Lopez (AFP Commander, Western Command) presented a detailed account of China’s reclamations on each island in the West Philippine Sea. He suggests a whole-nation strategy or a whole-region strategy of counter communications to China’s defiant assertions.
Commo. Aaron Reconquista, CDR. Ivan E. Roldan, LCDR. Mitzie Campo, and LCDR. Vergara from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) indicated that at present, there are no PCG and BFAR vessels deployed in Bajo de Masinloc as deployment had been suspended since June 2012. The PCG, however, sustained its presence in the shoal by sending its operatives onboard motor-bancas. They shared the detailed activities documented by PCG operatives in the area since January 2015 to-date.
Commo. Carlos L. Agustin (President, Maritime League and MBF Chair) reiterated his remarks in previous meetings that we all must hold on to the historical fact that Bajo de Masinloc belongs to the Philippines notwithstanding the shoal being outside the Paris Treaty limits; and that his findings in Masinloc, Subic and other coastal towns in Zambales and Pangasinan is that fishermen from those provinces have been fishing there since time immemorial. It is only a few years ago that Chinese vessels have been shoving off our local fishermen, depriving them of their daily source of income.
LCDR. Del Prado also presented the updates on the Philippine’s arbitral tribunal case vs China. The Philippines had submitted its Memorial to the Arbitral Tribunal in March 2014 and China was given until December 2014 to submit its Counter-Memorial. However, China refused to participate in the arbitration proceedings. The Philippines further submitted supplemental documents to the Arbitral Tribunal on 16 March 2015. Oral arguments would commence in July 2015 and the decision of the Arbitral Tribunal would be handed down in January 2016.
The Philippine Navy’s assessment is that China will likely sustain the deployment of its vessels in the disputed islands, and continue to use military strategies, particularly the Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) strategy, in a bid to assert its claim and dominance over the area.
The Philippine Navy is not doing any reclamation in the area. Commo. Agustin stated that the Philippines had made mistakes in the past: (1) Not pursuing the rehabilitation of the lighthouse placed by the Philippine Coast Guard in 1991 due to the objection of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) as it would violate the Department of Commerce on the SCS; and (2) Not continuing with the improvement of the runway in Pag-asa Island (part of Kalayaan Island Group) after China had protested.
VADM Jose M. Alano (PN) commented on China’s aggressive stance in the West Philippine Sea. Although the government had taken several steps, he believes more effort and support is needed especially to make other countries aware of what China is doing in the area. And, although the DFA has been all out in its campaign in the international community, all other stakeholders should be fully informed as well on the current issues and implications.
Commo. Agustin stated that the Philippines was first to develop the structure on Pag-Asa Island, and continues to follow the Rule of Law. He stated that the West Philippine Sea is and will remain a very significant major issue that the Aquino Administration had apparently failed to anticipate. He suggested that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) could prepare a resolution particularly on the destruction of marine environment resulting from China’s reclamation activities.
Governor Roger Mercado (Southern Leyte) stated that the problem began when the Philippines changed its constitution, and resolved not to engage in war that in turn resulted in a disabled military by focusing the armed forces on social/natural calamities. The military then omitted external aggression because of the belief in the presence of the UN. He pointed out that the Philippines does not have the military capability to engage in war, nor the financial capacity to build. He thus stipulated on changing the constitution, and suggested to: (a) increase budget resources allocated to the Armed Forces; (b) increase recruitment; and (c) send soldiers to the Spratlys and to extend the reach of maritime patrols. Commo. Agustin suggested the RAMPHOS aircraft for offshore and inshore surveillance. Governor Mercado showed a keen interest to acquire the vessel.
Just like all other countries, the Philippines formally abides by international law, and rejects war “as an instrument of national policy” as stated in Section 2, Statement of Principles, 1987 Constitution, which similarly appears in Section 3 of the same Part in the 1973 Constitution. Commo. Agustin agreed that the military should have more funds for weapons, and recalled that while he believes in economics as a prime factor, Commo. Plaridel Garcia (PN), during the previous Maritime Forum, stressed that many countries with lower GNP than the Philippines have more credible navies. Commo. Garcia discussed the problems and solutions regarding acquisition of a Philippine Navy frigate. Capt. Tomas Baino (PN) discussed the technical evaluation and effectiveness of small submarines in littoral waters.
There was significant support for action by the Maritime Forum to take a strong stand in calling the attention of governments and the general public on China’s increasing build up on disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea. This was unanimously resolved.
The 101st MBF was held at the Maritime Academy for Asia and the Pacific (MAAP) where VADM Eduardo R. Santos (President, MAAP) and MAAP’s Engr. Galang presented a novel maritime training that uses a simulator developed by MAAP as an opportunity to provide training particularly to our domestic fleet with the aim to increase knowledge, improve skills, and help avoid maritime accidents in the future.
The Office of Transport Security (OTS) of the Department of Trade and Commerce (DOTC) presented the problem of enforcement and emphasized the fact that 9/11 revolutionized security in the transportation system worldwide. Based on the presentation of Eriberto Suria (Director, OTS-DOTC) showing the OTS regulatory framework and standardization of security measures, and the presentation of Atty. Miguel Oraa (Director, Plans and Legal Bureau, DOTC), enforcement had clearly become policy heavy but lacking in the administration area. Thus, Atty. Oraa reminded Atty. Nicasio Conti (D.A., Marina) and Port Manager German Tuguigui (PPA) about the MOA on Cooperative Enforcement for Port Facilities.
The 102nd MBF was held at Casino Español in Ermita, Manila where representatives from Marina, Director F. Lingad and CAPT. H.P. Estaniel, discussed the report on the “Conference for the Enhancement of Safety of Ships Carrying Passengers for Non-International Voyages” and the search for a new Director General for the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for which Dr. Maximo Q. Mejia Jr., the current Director General of Marina, is one of the strong contenders. More details on Dr. Mejia’s qualifications are posted on www.max-imo.org. The IMO is a United Nations agency that promotes safety at sea through safety codes, rules on tonnage measurements, pollution control, and requirements on shipment of dangerous goods, through the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code, in compliance with international legal requirements.
Representatives of Fireworks Philippines extended their invitation to attend the maritime exhibition of Marine Philippines 2015 at the SMX Convention Center in Manila on June 17-19.