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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

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.
Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festivali
X
April 24, 2015 4:09 AM
Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Keeping Washington Airspace Safe Is Tall Order

Being the home of all three branches of the U.S. federal government makes Washington, D.C. the prime target for those who want to make their messages and ideas heard. Unfortunately, many of them choose to deliver them in unorthodox ways, including from the air, as a recent incident clearly showed involving a gyrocopter landing on the Capitol’s West Lawn. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

VOA Blogs