Defense chief admits gov't can never confirm China's weather stations in West PH Sea

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 4) — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said there is no way for the Philippine government to confirm if China has indeed built weather stations in contested islands in the West Philippine Sea.

"We cannot go there and inspect them physically," Lorenzana said on CNN Philippines' The Source Tuesday.

Asked if the Philippines will never know if China built those weather stations, Lorenzana said, "Yes."

"We fly by there, near, not above but just in the periphery of those artificial islands, and every time they do that, they are being challenged," he added, referring to the Armed Forces of the Philippines' Western Command (WESCOM) who guard the areas of Palawan, the Kalayaan Group of Islands, and the Spratlys.

He added that when the WESCOM tried to check into the artificial features, they could not pinpoint which structures were dedicated for weather.

"There's so many structures already," he said. "And we don't know which ones [are for] weather."

But Lorenzana reiterated weather stations in the disputed islands should be no cause of worry.

"We should be more concerned of radars that can, radars that will neutralize our communications, to jam our communications. Radars that can guide missiles to its destination. That's what we are concerned of, but not weather stations," Lorenzana said.

Malacañang said Lorenzana's efforts are enough.

"Apparently the secretary of national defense has already done his job. So we will just let it be na wala tayong alam <that we don't know anything>," Presidential Spokesperson Sal Panelo said in a press briefing Tuesday.

On November 1, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang said Beijing has begun operating weather stations in the artificial islands. Malacañang had said government will verify the existence of these stations.

Foreign affairs chief Teodoro Locsin Jr. downplayed the presence of the stations, saying that they aren't China's claims of sovereignty.

READ: No mention of Chinese weather stations in ASEAN summit, DFA chief says

Beijing and Manila, along with four other countries, have overlapping claims in features of the South China Sea. China has refused to observe a 2016 international tribunal ruling recognizing the Philippines' claims over some of the disputed areas in the global waterway.

Panelo said probing into the contested areas may provoke untoward incidents.

"So you may have some problems there may even provoke something that we don't want. They claim that it's theirs, the arbitral ruling says it's ours. Meanwhile, nobody seems to want to enforce it. That's precisely why we're using the mechanism of diplomacy and negotiation," he explained.