Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Thursday said he supported a plan to develop Philippine-occupied Pagasa Island into a tourist destination despite the protestations of China which is staking a competing claim to the island located in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
“Yes, why not? It’s our territory,” Gazmin told reporters in a briefing in Camp Aguinaldo.
“Since we have a mayor there, why should we need to ask for permission from another country?” he added.
Gazmin said he saw no reason to fear a Chinese invasion of Pagasa despite a statement issued last week by that country’s foreign ministry reiterating its claim of sovereignty over the island it referred to as Zhongye and saying that it opposed any illegal activities there.
“I hope [any intrusion or harassment] will not happen but like the United States said, there will be a strong presence in the Pacific and we will be having a lot of exercises with them in these areas,” he said.
The joint US-Philippine exercises, Gazmin said, should serve as a “deterrent” to others so “we will not be pushed around anymore by the strong countries.”
Asked how the Philippines should respond to China’s protest over the plan to develop the island, he said: “Well, it will go through a process, this protest of theirs. Then we can easily answer that because that is part of our territory.”
US-Philippine military exercises have been expanded from the annual Balikatan joint training to include more troops on both sides and more activities. The governments of the Philippines and the United States, however, have denied the stepped-up exercises had anything to do with the conflict in the West Philippine Sea with China.
Pagasa is located in the municipality of Kalayaan under the province of Palawan in the Spratlys island chain which is being claimed wholly or in part by the Philippines, China, Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam and Malaysia.