On the night of Aug. 3, alert guards at a navy base in Cavite City accosted a Chinese national who attempted to enter the restricted facility.

The Chinese national had no ID card and passport and could not speak English, making it hard for soldiers to question him.

He was turned over to the local police for a non-serious crime of attempted trespassing into a military facility.

Nothing was heard of up to this day on what happened to the Chinese national. It was not known whether the police had filed a complaint against him.

Probably not, because senior naval officials ignored the incident, treating it as a simple case of a Chinese national, probably an employee of one of the many Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGOs) run by Chinese investors in the province, who got lost.

It’s a very convenient excuse for an innocent-looking Chinese national traveling without an identification card.

If he was able to gain access to the naval base, it would have been a major security breach.

The naval base in Sangley Point was a strategic military facility that guarded the country’s seat of power in Manila. During the Spanish colonial period, the base at the mouth of Manila Bay was home to the Spanish fleet in Asia that protected the royal city.

In fact, the mock battle between US and Spanish naval forces in 1898 happened at the mouth of the bay. It was the starting point of the half-century American occupation of the Philippines.

Given its importance, the United States built large naval and air bases in Sangley Point. It was turned over to the Philippines during the Marcos years, converted into an air force base and a navy base.

Before its transfer to Cagayan de Oro, the 15th Strike Wing was based in Sangley, which was renamed Danilo Atienza Air Base in honor of a fighter pilot who defended the Cory Aquino government during the December 1989 coup attempt.

The nearby navy base is the home of the Philippine Fleet and the Naval Sea Systems Command, which the Philippine Navy planned to relocate to a 100-hectare area in Subic now occupied by a shipyard of Hanjin, a South Korean company that filed for bankruptcy in 2018.

Now, an American investor and an Australian shipbuilder want to take over and set up a ship repair facility for the US Navy.

Sangley Point is no stranger to the Chinese as seafaring merchants from southern China used the strip of land in Cavite as a trading outpost during the early period of Spanish colonial rule.

The name Sangley actually came from the ocean-going Chinese merchants who were not permitted to trade in Manila. They had made port calls from Japan up to the Arabian peninsula.

In the 21st century, the Chinese traders are slowly returning to Cavite, building a huge POGO hub dangerously near the naval base. They are transforming the old Island Cove resort into a major commercial center.

Chinese businesses, particularly POGOs, have been sprouting like mushrooms in a dangerous pattern within a five-kilometer radius from strategic security installations in the capital and elsewhere.

For instance, a Chinese international school was tucked behind the Philippine Army headquarters at McKinley Hill in Taguig.

When President Rodrigo Duterte visited China in April last year, two Chinese companies tried to lease strategically located islands on the main island of Luzon — Fuga Island in the north and two smaller islands in Subic Bay.

The plans were blocked when navy officials raised a howl of protest. A navy detachment will soon rise on Fuga Island to monitor ship movements in the Balintang Channel, which is used by China’s navy to cross into the Pacific Ocean from the South China Sea.

Chinese proposals to transform Grande Island in Subic into an eco-tourism project were also blocked.

But Chinese efforts to build projects near strategic locations in the Philippines continued, in a bid to control the country’s telecommunications, water and power sectors.

As early as the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo from 2001 to 2010, before she pivoted to Beijing after the Bush administration got angry over her withdrawal of 50 soldiers in Iraq in 2004, security advisers had warned against China’s attempts to gain access to lucrative construction projects.

The National Security Council, for instance, warned the transportation and communications department against awarding a contract to a Chinese company bidding for the construction of a parallel runway at Puerto Princesa airport in Palawan.

Civil aviation shares the runway with the main military base, including the Antonio Bautista Air Base, where some fighters patrolling the vast South China Sea are based.

Before the attempt of an undocumented Chinese national to enter a naval base in Cavite, there was a group of camera-toting Chinese tourists who lost their way into a secluded naval base in Ulugan Bay.

They were, of course, stopped at the gates. Strangely, the navy base was in an off-beaten track but was long rumored to become a mini-Subic base because it was directly across the Spratlys.

The navy planned to build a large depot and a major refueling station for ships patrolling the South China Sea. The public works and highways department had completed an access road cutting through Palawan’s virgin rainforest, from Puerto Princesa to the future naval base.

As the Philippines slowly but steadily builds its military capability to protect its national interests in the disputed waters in the South China Sea, expect more Chinese nationals to get lost in military facilities around the country, particularly facing the western seaboard.