News / Asia

    Philippines Plays Catch-up in Developing Disputed Isle

    Manila artist and historian Carlos Celdran holds up a hand-written sign as demonstrators outside the Chinese consulate in Manila protest China's reclamation activity at Johnson South Reef, locally known as Mabini Reef, in the South China Sea, June 12, 201
    Manila artist and historian Carlos Celdran holds up a hand-written sign as demonstrators outside the Chinese consulate in Manila protest China's reclamation activity at Johnson South Reef, locally known as Mabini Reef, in the South China Sea, June 12, 201
    Simone Orendain
    The Philippines' top diplomat this week called for a moratorium on building activities by China that he says “escalate tension” on hotly-contested features in the South China Sea.  At the same time, Philippine officials and concerned citizens are trying to keep the country’s only civilian-inhabited island in the disputed Spratly Islands habitable for its tiny population.

    About 150 people chanted, “Get out China!” at a recent rally in Manila’s business district protesting China’s reclamation activity at several reefs in the Spratly Islands.

    Carlos Celdran, a Manila artist and historian who was among them, says the ongoing dispute between China and the Philippines is all about tapping the resources in the South China Sea.  Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims in the sea, which has abundant fishing, potentially huge hydrocarbon reserves and is a heavily travelled trade route.

    Celdran says China doing reclamation work, drilling in contested waters and taking other actions to assert its claims is “so old-fashioned.”

    But he also says Filipinos should “get involved [in] the issue.”

    “We completely dropped the ball when it came to developing Pagasa shoal and the Kalayaan Islands," Celdran said. " It’s completely unsustainable.  It’s an empty island with no water, no infrastructure, no electricity.  So the threat of people leaving that island and leaving it empty for [China] to come in is really high.”
     
    Click to enlargeClick to enlarge
    x
    Click to enlarge
    Click to enlarge
    Celdran refers to the Spratlys by their local name, the Kalayaan Group of Islands.  The Philippines claims nine islands, reefs and shoals in the Spratlys, which has hundreds of formations.  Among them, the 37-hectare Pagasa Island, internationally known as Thitu,  has up to 150 mostly civilian residents at any given time.

    A few months ago, Celdran and a small group of friends created a fledgling project to support Thitu.  Their goal is to bolster its infrastructure and education system, which Celdran says is “totally doable.”  They plan to send water filtration and solar power systems.  So far, they have delivered elementary schoolbooks to the 30 children attending the one-room school.

    Kalayaan Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon had the school built two years ago.  He says before that children attended school in Palawan, an island province some 500 kilometers to the east.

    Bito-onon says Thitu municipality’s residents are mostly local government workers and fisherfolk.  He says it is at the lowest end of the country’s socio-economic structure.  Its budget for social services and infrastructure is $223,000.00, a slight increase over last year.  

    Bito-onon says this is barely enough to offer basic services, such as healthcare.  There is no doctor on the island, whose airport runway is unusable.

    “But if we have facilities, relevant facilities like a good airport, a civilianized airport and there are regular flights and then we have a nice harbor and good sea craft, everything will just go normal.  No problem,” Bito-onon said.
     
    Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua ChunyingForeign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying
    x
    Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying
    Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying
    On Monday China’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the Philippines’ call for stopping construction activities in the South China Sea islands was “totally unreasonable.”  She said China, which says it has “indisputable sovereignty” over about 90 percent of the South China Sea, had a right to do what it wanted on its claimed territory.  Hua says the Philippines has illegally occupied some of the disputed islands and is carrying out construction work.  

    But Ian Storey, a senior fellow at Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies says the Philippines is simply “playing catch-up” to its neighbors.  Some of them have well-developed infrastructure on their claimed islands.

    “It’s one thing to repair a runway or to add… what the Philippines is doing, maybe adding a school, that kind of thing.  It’s quite another to do reclamation work,” Storey said.

    Storey points out under a non-binding agreement between the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China there is nothing that prohibits upgrading of existing features.  However, he says reclamation stretches the limits and “violates the spirit” of the declaration.

    Officials suspect China’s reclamation work is laying the groundwork for military infrastructure.  

    Another analyst, Sam Bateman with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, says how the reclamation work will be used to justify maritime claims in the future could stir tensions further.  

    He says the Philippines non-military goals at Thitu help strengthen its claims.

    You May Like

    Turkey, US Splits Deepen Over Support for Kurdish Militants

    Ankara summons American ambassador to protest remarks by State Department spokesman who said Washington does not consider Syria's Kurdish Democracy Union Party (PYD) a terrorist organization

    Obama Seeking $19 Billion for National Cybersecurity

    Move, touted as attempt to build broad, cohesive federal response to cyberthreats, calls for increase in cybersecurity spending across all government agencies

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire, who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: ABK from: USA
    June 19, 2014 3:03 AM
    Sounds like it could be made a great vacation getaway area once it is developed.

    by: David Bishop from: California
    June 18, 2014 8:19 AM
    It is good to see the Philippines developing this small island. I imagine it may turn into a good diving location. I look forward to the progress.

    by: Ivansk from: USA
    June 18, 2014 7:47 AM
    China and it's 9 dash LIE. We have done the homework and China has clear and absolute NO ownership of the Islands. Ancient maps and documents proves that for one China was not allowed to venture out of Hainan, Two Ancient maps clearly shows that Hainan is it and no other Island, Ancient Portugese, Spanish and Arab maps show the Island of the Philippines shows western Islands and was even given a name by ancient Filipino mariners. CHINAS CLAIM IS ALL A LIE PEEPS. THEY EVEN DON'T KNOW HOW TO SPELL PROPERLY LIKE THEIR CURRENT CLAIM THEY ADDED THE LETTER "N" FOR LINE BUT FOR ALL THIS TIME THE CORRECT SPELLING IS 9 DASH LIE.
    9 DASH LIE
    REMEMBER.
    9 DASH LIE.

    by: Bhalanee from: USA
    June 18, 2014 4:00 AM
    So what?
    please go back to read your maps n documents such that you do not disgrace by claiming what us not yours except listening to your super-punk boss Obama who want to pressure china to give up its territory.
    In Response

    by: gus from: usa
    June 19, 2014 2:03 AM
    bhalanee......Spratley islands and scarborough schoal is 900 miles away from china and both area is within 120 miles from the philippines ......lets forget about history lets just follow the united nation signed agreement for the economic zone..... with in the 200 miles from the shore of each country...... hmmmmm i wish china understand the meaning of the sign United Nation agreement.
    In Response

    by: Yazu
    June 18, 2014 11:50 PM
    Oh, so China demand us to read our own historical documents while China here is trying to avoid the arbitration case.

    by: lulu32 from: USA
    June 18, 2014 3:30 AM
    oh! c'mon it take so long to act.. if the place no water why not the government send them a tanker loaded with water... if there is no electricity why not send them a wind turbine to produce electricity or solar energy kits....the problem solve.... please hurry before the Chinese take over the kalayaan....

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.