Metro Manila, Philippines — Senator Francis Escudero on Tuesday said the Philippines should now build its own structure on Ayungin Shoal as China continues to harass Philippine vessels and fishermen.
“During the budget deliberations, I will propose the inclusion in the budget of an item to build a structure already on that island,” Escudero told CNN Philippines’ The Source.
The senator said he will push for ₱100 million for the structure, which can include accommodation for Filipino troops stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre – a World War II-era ship intentionally grounded on Ayungin Shoal in 1999 to serve as the country’s outpost in the West Philippine Sea.
Escudero pointed out that China was the first to build structures in the contested area.
“Kami naman magpapagawa sa sinasabi naming amin din dapat wala rin kayong gawin dahil wala rin naman kaming gagawin din laban sa inyo kaugnay ng baseng pinatayo ninyo,” he added.
[Translation: We will build in an area that we claim as ours, so you shouldn’t do anything because we will not do anything against you and the base you built.]
Ayungin Shoal is located 104 nautical miles west of Palawan – well within the Philippines’ 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The Philippines maintains it has sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the Kalayaan Island group, which China is also claiming through its nine-dash line. However, a landmark arbitral tribunal ruling in 2016 invalidated Beijing’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea.
Escudero emphasized that his proposal is not meant to anger China, but to give the president the “flexibility to act as the chief architect of our foreign policy as he deems fit.”
He also said he would want the ₱100-million budget to be placed under the Department of Public Works and Highways instead of the Department of National Defense. Through this, the building of a structure in Ayungin Shoal will not appear confrontational, he noted.