MANILA, Philippines–The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) clarified Monday that only 80 – not 800 as earlier reported- Marines were sent to Palawan to augment government troops stationed near the disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea.
Colonel Arnulfo Burgos Jr., AFP spokesperson, said that Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban, commander of the Western Command (Wescom), did not mention that 800 Marines were deployed in Palawan in connection with the conflicting claims over the Spratly Islands.
Besides the Philippines and China, the territory is also being claimed in whole or in part by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.
“There is no truth to the published reports [about] the recent deployment of 800 Philippine Marine personnel in the area of Western Command,” Burgos told reporters.
“It’s actually less than 80. You can check with General Sabban. He did not say anything about the 800 Marine personnel… deployed there,” he added.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer tried but failed to contact Sabban on his mobile phone Monday.
The Agence France Presse reported over the weekend that the Philippine government sent 800 Marines in Palawan and opened a new headquarters “to guard its interest.”
Burgos said the “only recent deployment” in Wescom was the arrival of the 3rd Marine Brigade at the command headquarters in Puerto Princesa City last Friday.
The contingent was “composed of less than 80 personnel,” according to Burgos.
“This group will provide command and control of the battalion landing teams stationed there for years now,” he said.
Burgos said the deployment of more troops in Palawan was “part and parcel” of addressing the security concerns in the area, saying the new Marine command “is very essential in exercising command and control over the two battalions operating” under the Wescom.
Asked if the movement of the Marine forces was connected with the tension in the West Philippine Sea, he said: “This is just [to address] operational concerns to improve the conduct of operations in the area.”
“We work for continuous improvement of the command’s control. There is no relation at all to the dispute (over the Spratlys),” he stressed.