The Philippines’ top diplomat on Wednesday said the country would push through with plans to upgrade infrastructure in its claimed parts of the contested Spratly islands in the West Philippine Sea even as it continues to seek a peaceful solution to the dispute.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario also reiterated the Philippines’ standing protest against China’s “bothersome” actions, citing the nine-dash line in China’s territorial map that encompasses the entire Spratly chain of islands and the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.
The DFA said China’s claims were “excessive” as it includes almost all territories in the South China Sea, including those within the Philippines’ maritime zone.
Del Rosario said the Philippines has filed roughly 15 official protests to Chinese incursions in the waters, among them sea patrols, the fortification of an administrative unit for the Spratlys, and a new maritime law allowing police interdiction of foreign ships in China’s southern coast.
Earlier, China announced similar plans to beef up infrastructure and tourism facilities in the islands off Hainan, a southern Chinese province that it is assigned to exercise administrative authority over the disputed islands.
In a press briefing Wednesday, Del Rosario said Philippine infrastructure in the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG), the Pag-asa Island in particular, was due for rehabilitation, backing earlier statements on military plans to enhance the runway on the territory.
“We should fix it. I think we should refurbish it, enhance it,” said Del Rosario in response to a question on KIG’s development.
Kalayaan, Philippine authorities assert, is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and is a municipality of Palawan province. Within this island group is the Pag-asa Island, the seat of Kalayaan town and home to a modest Filipino civilian and military population.
Del Rosario also bared plans to turn the Philippine-claimed parts of the Spratlys into a tourism area.
“I think there are moves to convert some areas over which we have sovereignty into tourist areas, and I think that’s being looked into. I don’t know whether we have the budget for it , but I understand that that is being considered,” Del Rosario told reporters at the Diamond Hotel in Manila.