The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee called the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Department of Foreign Affairs yesterday to clarify allegations that China used Philippine soil and rocks from two mountains in Sta. Cruz, Zambales, to expand the Scarborough Shoal into a military base with operational missiles.
Sen. Richard Gordon, committee chairman, issued this statement following a “very serious” allegation of Zambales Gov. Amor D. Deloso before his committee that small-scale mining permits were used by some people “to gather the soil of Zambales and level the mountains and put it in Scarborough.’’
Deloso claimed that Scarborough was “converted into 3,500 hectares of reclaimed area and China built an airport and a missile station… which explains why two US warships are guarding the area,” he added.
Gordon asked whether or not Deloso could have mistaken the Spratly island airfield and naval base built by China for the Scarborough Shoal, Deloso, a lawyer, replied: “I don’t think so.’’
Deloso took over the governorship of Zambales last July 1 from former Gov. Hermogenes E. Ebdane Jr. who failed to attend the Gordon committee public hearing but was represented by counsel.
Based on Zambales provincial records, Deloso said the province collected P19 million in fees from 199 small mining permits and four big mining firms but the “devastating” damage to livestock, houses, roads, and agricultural lands and the coastal areas” reached P7 billion.
He said he rescinded all mining permits when he took over the Zambales governorship last July. He said typhoon “Lando” in 2014 caused unprecedented damage in Zambales as a result of the mining activities.
Gordon said he is willing to undertake a closed door session with the AFP and DFA on this development as any construction and expansion of Scarborough Shoal appears to be contrary to a United Nations arbitral court at the Hague on the Philippine-China territorial dispute in the South China Sea.
The Hague decision rejected the nine-dash-line claim of China to most of the South China Sea and called on China to respct the traditional fishing rights of Filipino and other fishermen at Scarborough Shoal, which is inside the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone.
Deloso said Zambales residents had thought that the Zambales permits granted to the Chinese were just for nickel mining. But provincial records show that 999 trucks hauled soil and rocks to the Sta. Cruz harbor night and day for almost two years.
Asked by Gordon whether he has taken down the statements of the estimated 700 Filipino fishermen who had fished in the Scarboroiugh area, Deloso said, “No,” but stressed that the Scarborough Shoals is a time-honored fishing ground of Zambales fishermen.
The Gordon committee hearing was called by a resolution of Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson calling for an inquiry into the “reported destructive mining operations and illegal excavations in the province of Zambales, with the end in view of determining the extent of damage caused and the individuals to be held accountable therefore, for the purpose of providing remedial legislation to further strengthen our environmental protection and conservation laws and address the possible breach to our national security.”
Senate Minority Leader Ralph G. Recto said he is confused on the abrasive announcements of President Duterte on Philippine-US relations.
“We should treat our treaty ally better. I agree to an independent foreign policy and improve relationship with China through bilateral talks and continue with productive people to people and economic cooperation,’’ he said.
“The reality (however) is China is building structures in our EZZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) and in Philippine territory that threaten us… We have a Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951 with the US. The VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement of 2000) and EDCA (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement of 2014) are part of the MDT. China is the bigger threat isn’t it?’’ he asked.