February 20, 2018, 10:18 am
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Duterte eyes June 12 visit to Pag-asa Island

BY JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR AND VICTOR REYES

PRESIDENT Duterte yesterday ordered the Armed Forces to start occupying all Philippine territories in the South China Sea to strengthen the country’s claims over the areas.

He said he wants the Philippine flag raised and structures put up in the nine to 10 Philippine territories. He also said he plans to visit Pag-asa Island, in the Kalayaan Group of Islands, on June 12, Independence Day, and lead flag-raising ceremonies there.

“We tried to be friends with everybody but we have to maintain our jurisdiction now, at least the areas under our control. And I have ordered the Armed Forces to occupy all the so many islands,” he said in an interview during his visit to the military’s Western Command in Puerto Princesa in Palawan.

“Lagyan ng structures and the Philippine flag... Basta iyung bakante na iyung atin na, tirahan na natin, ibig sabihin. Mukhang agawan kasi ito ng isla eh. And what’s ours now, at least kunin na natin and make a strong point natin there that it is ours (Put up structures and the Philippine flag... Those vacant islands that belong to us, we should occupy those. It appears to be a fight for the claims. And what’s ours now, at least we take it and make a strong point there that it is ours,)” he said.

Philippine troops are occupying nine areas in the Kalayaan Group of Islands (Spratly Islands) in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). 

The Spratlys Islands is being claimed in whole by China and in part by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

The nine Philippine-occupied islands are Pag-asa, Lawak, Patag, Likas, Parola, Panata, Kota, and Rizal Reef and Ayungin Shoal. Security officials are withholding the number of troops stationed in these areas for security reasons. 

Pag-asa Island is the largest among the nine areas. There are a few hundred Filipino civilians living there. The island serves as the seat of government of the Kalayaan, a municipality under Palawan.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said: “We have nine islands in the Kalayaan Island Group or KIG that are already in our possession since long ago, including Pag-asa (island). We have PMar (Philippine Marines) troops in every one of them.”

“The President wants facilities built such as barracks for the men, water (desalination) and sewage disposal systems, power generators (conventional and renewable), lighthouses, and shelters for fishermen,” he also said, clarifying Duterte’s statement.

 The President stressed the need to maintain the country’s jurisdiction over some of its territories in South China Sea through the building of houses and bunkers, and developing habitation.

Duterte said he also wants Benham Rise, a 13 million-hectare undersea region off Aurora, to be renamed Philippine Ridge.

“I will officially claim it as ours and rename it. Hindi Benham Rise. It’s, I’ll call it the Philippine Ridge. Kasi parang ridge, kasi continuous kasi ang continental shelf diyan sa baba (It’s like a ridge, the continental shelf is continuous.

So might as we claim a ridge because it connects one ridge to another,” he said.

AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said he does not think Duterte’s planned visit to Pag-asa will escalate the territorial dispute.

“I would not suppose so because we have opened up bilateral consultations with the Chinese and they have always mentioned that everything will be always be discussed peacefully,” said Padilla.

If the visit pushes through, Padilla said this will be a first time a Philippine president will visit the Pag-asa Island.

On whether the visit is advisable, Padilla said: “This is a matter that I will need to consult with our seniors. I have not heard him say it so let me just check on that first.”
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