Asked if the Chinese continue construction activities on the artificial islands, Lorenzana answered yes.
“Tuloy-tuloy ang kanilang improvement ng mga nagawa na nilang isla (They continue to improve the islands they have built),” Lorenzana tells the House Committee on Appropriations during the budget deliberations for the Department of National Defense.
Lorenzana, however, admitted that the military does not have information on what China is doing with its islands in the disputed waterway.
The Cabinet member added that the military cannot go to these islands, which in recent years have been installed with anti-ship cruise missiles, surface-to-air missile systems and radar jamming equipment.
Earlier this year, China launched two research stations on Fiery Cross and Subi Reefs for “monitoring ecological and seismic changes in key regions of the South China Sea.”
“Alam natin na meron silang mga tropa d’yan (We know they have troops there) but we do not know how big… We cannot have any way of knowing that,” Lorenzana told the House panel.
Navy continues maritime patrols amid limited assets
Lorenzana also informed the House panel that the Philippine Navy continues to patrol the West Philippine Sea, the portion of the South China Sea within the country’s exclusive economic zone.
The DND chief, however, admitted that the navy has limited assets to cover the entire region.
“We are doing our best with the assets available to us na patrolyahan natin ‘yung mga areas na ‘yan (to patrol those areas),” Lorenzana said.
“Now it’s not adequate to actually make kasi napakalawak ng West Philippine Sea (the West Philippine Sea is vast) and the navy has limited assets, also the air force but we are trying our best with our limited assets to assert our sovereignty over the area,” he added.
The DND chief said this in response to the concern of Rep. Arlene Brosas (Gabriela Party-list), who said that China’s continuous presence and militarization of the South China Sea is in contrast with the agency’s mandate to uphold the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“May militarization pa rin, may artificial islands. Nangangamba po tayo dito sa ginagawa ng China,” Brosas said.
(There is still militarization, there are artificial islands. We are concerned about what China is doing.)
The lawmaker also raised alarm over Beijing’s research stations in the Spratly Isands at it may lead to aggressive poaching and destruction of marine life, as well as Filipino fishermen being turned away from their fishing grounds.
“Kung lalong dadami ‘yan at sinasabi n’yo na pinagtatanggol natin pero in actuality nagtutuloy-tuloy ‘yung lahat ng ginagawa — contruction ng artificial islands, marine research facilities… Para pong wala na tayong kinalaman doon samantala we are claiming itong West Philippine Sea,” Brosas said, reiterating that the DND should uphold its mandate to uphold sovereignty and territorial integrity.
(If that increases and you say that we are defending but in reality everything is being done continuously — construction of artificial islands, marine research facilities… It seems that we have nothing to do with it while we are claiming the West Philippine Sea).