Ellen Tordesillas

Embarrassing findings on concrete blocks in Bajo de Masinloc

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Retired Philippine Navy Commodore Rex Robles had very serious doubts about the concrete blocks in Bajo de Masinloc as foundations for structures similar to what the Chinese did in Mischief Reef when he first saw the photos presented by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin during a budget congressional hearing last Sept. 3.

 

“Those blocks did not look like the beginnings of underwater build up,” said Robles, who had taken up advanced engineering courses.

Robles’ doubts have been proven correct because further investigation by the military showed that those concrete blocks, numbering 75 scattered within the 120-square-kilometer strategically important shoal, were not put by the Chinese, but by the Americans, who were in nearby Subic naval Base for more than 80 years until 1991, when the Philippine Senate junked the RP-US Military Bases Agreement.

At the Sept. 3 congressional budget hearing, Gazmin said the 75 concrete blocks, each block approximately two feet by two feet were believed to have been put up by China, who were in control of the area since June 2012 after a two-month standoff precipitated by the arrest of the Philippine Navy of Chinese fishermen in the area.

At the height of the standoff, there were about 80 Chinese ships and fishing vessels as against three by the Philippines (vessels owed by the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources). The Chinese withdrew most of their vessels except three. Since then the Chinese ships never left the shoal, only 124 nautical miles away from Zambales.

Gazmin and his spokesman, Peter Paul Galvez, went on to conclude that the concrete blocks “may serve as foundations, platforms, a prelude to construction.”

They cited the case of Mischief Reef in the Spratlys in the West Philippine Sea when in 1995, the Philippines, with a lot of help from the United States Intelligence, discovered a cluster of huts in Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, 130 nautical miles west of Palawan. It is now a military garrison.

Robles said in Mischief reef, the Chinese pumped in massive volumes of cement into the ocean in Mischief Reef for the foundation of the structures that they have now.

After the Gazmin congressional expose, military investigators interviewed former navy officers, light keepers, and fishermen familiar with Bajo de Masinloc and their findings did not support Gazmin’s allegations of the Chinese role on the concrete blocks. No wonder the Chinese categorically denied the allegations.

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei said “ No one knows the situation on the Huangyan Island better than China. What the Philippines said was completed fabricated.”

Philippine military investigators said the concrete slabs were placed there in the 80’s by the U.S. Navy, who used the shoal as impact or shooting range. The blocks, now covered by algae, had been used by the U.S. Navy as “sinkers” to preserve the wreckage of old ships they used for target practice.

“The concrete slabs were needed as ‘sinkers’ to keep the balance of the old decrepit ships which were placed in the shoal for the U.S. Navy’s shooting and bombing runs,” one of those interviewed said.

President Aquino has accepted the report. That’s why when he was asked at last week’s forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines, he dismissed the issue saying, they “blocks “are very, very old concrete blocks. Some of them have barnacles attach to them. They are not a new phenomenon.”

When we asked the U.S. Embassy for comment about the military findings, we were referred to the Office of Gazmin “for any clarification of his remarks.” Gazmin’s office didn’t answer queries about the latest development on their expose.

Those who are shocked and embarrassed about the findings on the concrete blocks are asking why did Gazmin present before Congress unverified information? For higher defense budget?

There must be a smarter way to get bigger budget than giving false information. Imagine, the country could be going to war over something untrue.

 

Ano ba yan?

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