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Defense chief calls China a bully in Spratly dispute

MANILA, Philippines—Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said China was singling out the Philippines because it has the weakest defense capability among the six nations that have laid claim to the oil-rich Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

In a news forum with defense reporters Tuesday, Gazmin was asked why China would protest every move made by the Philippines on its claimed territory when it does not do the same against the likes of Vietnam and Malaysia which have also built on occupied islands.

“Maybe we’re their favorite,” Gazmin said. “They see that in the region in terms of the capability of the armed forces, we are the weakest. You look at Malaysia, they have a strong armed forces. Vietnam has a strong armed forces. Brunei also has a strong armed forces.

“We are below par. So of course if you are going to bully, you would look for the weakest. You do not get someone who is your equal.”

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam claim portions of the Spratlys, which China claims entirely.

China’s latest protest had to do with the Philippines’ reported plan to construct a beaching ramp on Pag-asa Island, the biggest of the Philippine-occupied islands in the Spratlys collectively referred to as the Kalayaan group of islands.

Kalayaan is considered a municipality of Palawan province.

“Pag-asa is ours. We have a mayor there, we have a Philippine flag. Why do we need to ask permission from whichever country if we have to do repairs,” Gazmin asked. “If you do that, it means you doubt whether it’s yours. But that is ours. We don’t have to ask permission from anyone.”

Gazmin said the beaching ramp and other developmental projects planned on Pag-asa could not be interpreted as military construction.

“Those are not for the military. That is for commercial and tourist purposes, for our economic growth. It is not a military base although we do have a military post there. But that is not what we will expand,” he said.

He said they are concentrating on constructing a beaching ramp for now to help the island’s residents. He said it would cost about P300 million.

“We will just have to pool our resources together to be able to realize its completion,” Gazmin said.

He said after the completing the beaching ramp, they will think of how to further develop the island, saying he was misquoted in having said that they plan to develop Pag-asa Island as a tourist spot.

“We will first discuss where we’re headed,” Gazmin said, adding the island offers many opportunities once the beaching ramp is constructed and the runway repaired.

He said while other nations have developed their claimed islands into tourist spots, Pag-asa could also be a regular source of fisheries and aquatic resources.

Kalayaan Mayor Eugenio Biton-onon has said the ramp would be constructed by the Philippine Ports Authority with the help of the Philippine Navy to help their community.
He said the beaching ramp will allow “ro-ro” (roll-on roll-off) ships to beach and unload their cargo directly on the island’s shore.

Currently, people and supplies brought in by ships have to be transferred to small boats and the residents then haul in the supplies by wading in the water.

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