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Philippines to tighten guard on shoals, reefs, islets

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines would keep a closer guard on reefs, shoals and islets in its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, alarmed by reports of new reclamation activities by China, which Beijing denied.

The Philippine Coast Guard said on Saturday it had deployed a ship to Sabina (Escoda) Shoal on the Spratly archipelago, where it accused China of building an artificial island, having documented what it said were piles of dead and crushed coral on the sandbars.

Jonathan Malaya, spokesman for the National Security Council, said yesterday NSC chief Eduardo Año had ordered a tighter guard at locations within Manila’s 200-nautical-mile economic zone, as a long-standing diplomatic row with Beijing intensifies.

“No one will guard (these locations) except us. It is our responsibility under international law to guard (them) and ensure that the environment there would not be damaged and that there won’t be reclamation activities,” Malaya told a regular television program.

China claims almost all the South China Sea, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam, and has carried out extensive land reclamation on some islands, building military facilities, causing concern in Washington and the region.

China’s foreign ministry on Monday dismissed Manila’s latest accusation as “groundless and pure rumor.”

“Recently, the Philippine side has repeatedly spread rumors, deliberately smeared China and attempted to mislead the international community, which is futile,” spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular briefing.

He urged Manila to “return to the right track of properly settling maritime disputes through negotiation and consultation.”

Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Jay Tarriela said its presence at the Escoda Shoal had deterred China from doing small-scale reclamation, but that scientists would have to determine whether the piles of coral were natural or man-made.

He said the coast guard was committed to maintaining a presence at the shoal, just over 120 nautical miles from the Philippine province of Palawan.

To deter China’s activities, the PCG deployed the 97-meter BRP Teresa Magbanua to Escoda Shoal and which has