The sacking of a Malacañang official had to do with alleged rice smuggler David Tan Bangayan, sources say. Usec. Halmen Valdez’s family supposedly is closely associated with the shadowy trader probed in 2014 for massive grains sneak-ins. Halmen represented Secretary to the Cabinet Leoncio Evasco in the National Food Authority council. Explaining the firing, President Duterte said Valdez had reversed NFA administrator Jason Aquino’s ban on any more private rice imports during the local harvest starting March. Halmen was a holdover from the past administration.
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After surreptitiously exploring Benham Rise, China now is offering joint research with the Philippines of the rich undersea plateau. The Chinese foreign ministry this week feigned respect for Philippine sovereign rights over the 13 million-hectare rise, after exposure of its illicit three-month surveys of the Philippine eastside. It broke international and Philippine laws in scouring the seabed and waters without permission.
Ex-national security adviser Roilo Golez said the Chinese sleuthing in Benham Rise was for both submarine parking and offshore oil. He cautioned against falling for China’s alibi of “innocent passage” in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and extended continental shelf (ECS).
As revealed here Monday, the Chinese vessel Xiang Yang Hong-03 surveyed Benham Rise, east of Luzon, on a “special national mission.” The Mandarin-language China Ocean Newsletter reported that hundreds of seabed sediment and deep-water samples were taken from different sites in Nov.-Jan. With two other ships Xiang Yang Hong-03 proceeded to the strait between Samar and northeast Mindanao (see http://www.philstar.com/opinion/2017/04/03/1687209/chinese-vessel-identi…).
Supreme Court Senior Justice Antonio Carpio said Beijing was looking for submarine passage to and from the West Pacific through the Mindanao Gulf. Asking for the nature of the sediment samples, he said seabed exploration could be for oil, gas, and minerals. Only with permission may foreigners explore, since the UNCLOS reserves Benham Rise exclusively for Philippine use.
Golez said of the Chinese activities: “I do not believe the survey ship conducted harmless scientific research contrary to what the Chinese officially announced. I believe it conducted what it is capable of doing to promote China’s interest and prejudice Philippine interest.”
A former Navy captain, Golez said China had two objectives:
“(1) Oceanographic survey – to determine the characteristics of the undersea, study the thermocline patterns; data on thermoclines are very important for identifying possible submarine hiding areas, which are of critical importance in future submarine warfare in China’s so-called First and Second Island Defense Chains;
“(2) Hydrographic seismic survey – to study what could be under the seabed, to determine through sound reflection and refraction possible oil and gas. Considering the vastness of Benham Rise, the likelihood of such deposits is very strong, many times larger than at Malampaya (westside, in Palawan).”
The Chinese incursion in Benham incited public furor. On Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana’s prodding, the foreign office demanded Beijing to explain. The Philippines thrice had rejected Beijing requests to study Benham, for non-commital to include Filipino scientists and to share the results. China has two or three more pending requests, acting Foreign Sec. Enrique Manalo said.
Still, for global publicity, Beijing announced this week openness to joint research with “friendly countries” like the Philippines. “China is willing to engage in marine cooperation, including joint scientific research, with friendly countries like the Philippines, so as to bring benefits to people,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang told the press.
Lu was silent on the disallowed surveys, and feigned abidance with UNCLOS: “We have clarified our position over issues related to Benham Rise many times in recent days. China fully respects the right of the Philippines to the continental shelf of Benham Rise and has been committed to the provision of UNCLOS, which stipulates that a country should seek permission from a littoral state prior to carrying out scientific research activities in territorial waters, EEZs, and continental shelves of that littoral state.”
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Beijing’s forked tongue also showed last month on the issue of its military buildup in the South China (West Philippine) Sea. There is no such thing as “man-made islands” in the disputed waters, it claimed, but admitted to “constructions” that supposedly are for civilian purposes.
Satellite photos earlier revealed that Beijing has completed the military buildup on Fiery Cross, Subi, and Mischief Reefs, all within the Philippine EEZ and ECS. Anti-ship and anti-aircraft weapons, radars, and other facilities have been erected at the edges of 3,000-meter military-grade airstrips.
Reuters asked about it in a defense ministry press conference. Spokesman Wu Qian replied:
“I would like to emphasize four points. First, there is no ‘artificial island reef’ problem. Second, the Nansha Islands is the inherent territory of China, China in its own land on whether to engage in construction, what kind of construction, how to engage in construction, is entirely within the scope of China’s sovereignty. Third, the construction of the Chinese reefs is more for the civil needs of services, including the necessary defense facilities. Fourth, the current situation in the SCS, the calm of the SCS to the outside of some people anxious to choke, they are keen to speculation on the SCS, rendering tensions, their intentions, worth pondering.”
The UN arbitral court already ruled that China broke international law and irreparably ruined the environment with its reef reclamations. China first set up supposedly civilian weather radars in Fiery Cross and fisher’s shelters in Mischief Reef, only to convert those into air-naval fortresses.
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