In a chance interview after an earthquake drill in Marikina City, Gazmin said the military could not proceed with the repair of its facilities on Pag-asa Island including its eroding airstrip as doing so would require the construction of a pier.
Only a day before, the Department of Foreign Affairs said the repair of the airstrip would not violate the code of conduct among claimant-countries in the South China Sea.
“Repair and maintenance, that’s okay with us. But before we bring in construction materials there, we need to put up a pier to allow the entry of ships. So that will totally change the landscape. That’s against the DOC,” Gazmin said.
Gazmin was referring to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), a non-binding agreement signed by China and the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEN) which includes the Philippines.
The agreement aimed to ease the tension between countries that have claims over the mineral resources-rich Spratly Islands.
Gazmin pointed out that the landscape of Pag-asa Island might be changed if the military will put up a pier in order to accommodate the ships that would carry the construction materials for the repair works. He said such move is in violation of the DOC.
“We cannot repair (our facilities) because the construction materials will be coming from the outside,” Gazmin said.
Gazmin said it was impractical and very expensive to use aircraft in transporting the materials to the island.
“If it will be by aircraft, it will be very very expensive and very impractical. So you have to bring in the boat but the boat cannot come in because there is no pier,” Gazmin said.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines has long planned to repair its facilities in Pag-asa, including its dilapidated runway. The AFP, however, did not push through with its plan as the tensions between the Philippines and China over the disputed islands in Spratly escalated last year.
Pag-asa is one of the nine islands occupied by the Philippines in the disputed chain of islands and islets in South China Sea or West Philippine Sea. These chain of islands and islets are commonly referred as the Spratly Islands.
The seat of government of Kalayaan town in Palawan is situated on Pag-asa Island.
Just on Thursday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario said government could actually conduct repair works in the islands it occupies in West Philippine Sea as it is not covered by the DOC.
“I think the violation of the DOC is in terms of massive reclamation and we have said that maintenance and repair [are] not covered by the portion of the DOC which says repair and maintenance [do] not raise tension,” Del Rosario said.
Under the DOC, parties agreed “to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that woul complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner”.
The agreement, however, lacks the power to sanction states that will violate its provisions.
China and the ASEAN have yet to craft a code of conduct on exploration in West Philippine Sea or South China Sea, which is envisioned to be a legally-binding document.
It has been earlier reported that China is conducting massive reclamation works in several islands in the disputed territory.
Aside from China and the Philippines, other countries who have claims over Spratlys are Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command officials visit Pag-Asa Island in Palawan.