Inquirer Photos Cannot Lie
PRESIDENT RODRIGO Duterte’s decision to set aside sweeping victory of the Philippines in the arbitration case over areas of West Philippine Sea was presented as a strategic approach to a difficult challenge. China’s continuing presence in these waters challenge the Philippines’ ability to patrol our boundaries and to check further incursions on Philippine waters.
This was joined to moves made by the president and other official to cozy up to China for deals and loans of all kinds, boasting that while China continued to patrol the waters, it now refrained from chasing away Filipinos from their fishing grounds.
What to do with earlier reports that China was building military infrastructure on some of the country’s islands? Coming from the APEC Economic Leaders’ meeting in Vietnam last November, Duterte said Chinese President Xi Jin Ping dismissed the military buildup, saying “it’s nothing.” Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had also claimed that reclamation stopped in 2015.
CMFR cheers the Philippine Daily Inquirer for its visually-compelling report establishing with photo evidence that China has not stopped its massive reclamation and development in areas claimed by the Philippines. These pictures tell the story better than any document. Bonnie Glaser, Director of China Power Project of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), described the photos in her tweet as “the most complete, detailed batch of aerial pics available of China’s SCS military outposts.”
Inquirer reporter Frances Mangosing obtained from a “source” photos that show China’s almost completed military facilities on artificial islands that it built on reefsin Philippine waters. Most of the photos were taken between June and December 2017 from an altitude of 1500 meters. Features are labeled to identify lighthouses, radomes, communication towers, hangars and multi-storey buildings. Cargo vessels presumably carrying construction materials and docked military ships were also shown in the aerial pictures.(“EXCLUSIVE: New photos show China is nearly done with its militarization of South China Sea“)
Eugenio Bito-onon, former mayor of Pag-asa town in Kalayaan Island, the largest inhabited island in the Spratlys, attested to the authenticity of the photos. He told Inquirer that when he flew over the reclaimed islands with foreign journalists two years ago, the vertical features in the photos were not yet there.
Mangosing said, “The extent of development on the reefs show that China has gone ahead with building military outposts in the Spratlys despite a 2002 agreement with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) not to change any features in the sea.”
The photos are further visual confirmation of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative’s (AMTI) December 2017 report, which according to the Inquirer said: Kagitingan Reef (Fiery Cross Reef) underwent the most construction last year with work spanning 110,000 square meters. The runway on Kagitingan, as well as on Panganiban (Mischief) and Zamora (Subi) Reefs were either completed or almost ready for use. AMTI also published photos but with less detail.
CMFR also cheers Philstar.com for debunking Roque’s claim in its February 6 article, citing the same AMTI report. Asked about the military installations, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a press briefing on February 5 that “everything found on these islands were already there when the president (Duterte) took over (in 2016).” (“Contrary to Roque’s remark, China structures on man-made islands grew under Duterte’s nose“)
These reports have revisited the urgent need for a clear policy and working strategy that serve PH sovereignty. The subject has been included in the news agenda of other organizations. CNN Philippines and GMA-7 cited Inquirer in their respective reports on February 5. This should encourage other media to follow suit.