Defense chief eyes to visit PH outposts in South China Sea

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. AP File Photo

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana is planning to visit the troops manning the Philippine military outposts in the South China Sea this year amid warming relations between Philippines and China.

“One of the plans of our SND (Secretary of National Defense) is to visit our troops there in his convenient available time,” Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Año told reporters on Monday.

This will make Lorenzana the first Philippine defense chief to visit the Philippine claims in the South China Sea in recent years. His predecessor, Voltaire Gazmin, was not able to visit during his six-year term.

The Philippines has warmed up with its relationship with China when President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office last year. During the time of his predecessor President Benigno Aquino III, the Philippine government filed and won an arbitration case against China’s massive claims in the disputed sea.

China has repeatedly refused to recognize the ruling and has continued its militarization in the South China Sea.

Arsenio Andolong, director of the Public Affairs Service of the Department of National Defense, said that China’s reaction to the planned visit is being considered.

“We are taking that into consideration…Last year, medyo mainit pa ang issue pero ngayon medyo bati na baka pwede na (it was still a hot issue but now that we’re on amicable terms, maybe it’s possible),” he told reporters.

Lorenzana had been visiting troops in military camps when he assumed his post, and Andolong said the visit to the Spratlys in the South China Sea is just part of it.

“Magmula nung umupo siya, bumibisita siya sa camps (Ever since he took his post, he’s been visiting camps). Pagasa (Thitu Island) is a military outpost at kasama ito sa i-tour (it’s part of the tour),” he said.

Pagasa, the only Philippine detachment in the South China Sea which has an airstrip, is the most accessible.

The rest of the outposts in the Spratlys are only accessible by ship — Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal), Lawak Island (Nanshan), Parola (Northeast Cay), Patag Island (Flat), Kota (Loaita), Rizal (Commodore), Likas (West York) and Panata Island (Lankiam Cay).

“I-deliberate pa ang dalaw sa ibang outposts dahil kailangan ng barko and at certain times of the year lang pwede gawin (The visits to the other outposts will still be deliberated because we need ships and it can only be done at certain times of the year),” Andolong said. JE