IS THE Philippines too soft or just being cautious? Recently, a maritime law expert urged the government to question China’s weather observation stations on three Philippine-claimed reefs in the Spratly archipelago, saying the installations could be used for military purposes.

Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, doubts China’s claim that the stations would be used to “provide public service” to nations in the region.

The Hong Kong daily newspaper South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that China had opened weather observation stations on Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief reefs in the Spratly group of islands in the middle of the South China Sea.

In general all states, same with other league of nations members with military bases, also have weather stations. The new development in South China Sea gives a slight impression that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Department of National Defense must also be cautious, as the weather stations could be used for military purposes as mentioned by Lu Kang, spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry.

The meta-narrative here is that China will always say (whether true or not) that the posts would mainly be used to ensure navigational safety in the South China Sea. What should be dug deeper is the possibility that the data collected by the stations might be used for intents different from China’s claim that these would be used in weather forecasts for the crew of fishing vessels and other ships in the region. Or that it could be China’s way of masking the military purpose of its building artificial islands in the South China Sea.

Whatever the “verified information for the reported establishment” of weather observation stations on Philippine-claimed reefs is, the government must be careful on what approach will be used. Remember, we have a loan from China. They can easily burst the bubble that may or may not be favorable for both parties.

Meanwhile, the usual language of media is that China ignored the ruling and proceeded to build artificial islands on seven Philippine-claimed reefs in the Spratlys where it would later build bases from which to project its military might across the region.

The nice part here is that President Duterte, who came to office two weeks before the decision came down, set aside the arbitral ruling in exchange for aid, loans and investments from China. They will always highlight the bidding between the Philippines and China for that matter.

I believe that AFP can only act based on proper protocol. I will have to leave it to the President’s judgment on when and where the perfect time would be made regarding the Hague ruling.

But we shall take the appropriate action should these reports be validated and, of course, with proper guidance by the President’s marching order and the rule of law and peaceful co-existence. (Jumel G. Estrañero, Defense research analyst and college faculty)