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PH to upgrade facilities, not occupy new ones in South China Sea

/ 05:13 PM April 07, 2017
This July 20, 2011 file aerial photo, taken through the window of a closed aircraft, shows Pag-asa Island, part of the disputed Spratly group of islands, in the South China Sea located off the coast of western Philippines.  Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Thursday, April 6, 2017, that structures should be built on all of the nine to 10 islands, reefs and shoals held by the Philippines in the Spratly Islands.  Duterte said he may visit one of the islands, Pag-asa, to plant a Philippine flag on Independence Day. He said money has been budgeted to repair the runway on Pag-asa, home to a small fishing community and Filipino troops.   (AP Photo/Rolex Dela Pena, Pool, File)

This July 20, 2011 file aerial photo, taken through the window of a closed aircraft, shows Pag-asa Island, part of the disputed Spratly group of islands, in the South China Sea located off the coast of western Philippines. (AP Photo/Rolex Dela Pena, Pool, File)

The Armed Forces of the Philippines on Friday said it will upgrade its facilities on its naval detachments in the Spratlys and not occupy new ones.

“We will reinforce our troops and improve the structures and facilities there,” AFP chief Gen. Eduardo Año said.

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The AFP chief said they will abide with President Rodrigo Duterte’s orders: “That’s an order from the President and I intend to carry that out. Atin naman ‘yan per arbitration ruling so we don’t see any problem. Actually lahat ng islands dun total of 8 plus the Ayungin Shoal ay occupied na ng troops natin.”

Año said there are submerged lands or rocks that they could occupy but building structures are needed so that troops can stay there.

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The President ordered the military on Thursday during his visit to the Western Command to put up structures and place a Philippine flag in all islands, reefs and features claimed by the Philippines in the Kalayaan Island Group also known as Spratlys.

But the orders were not that clear to some: others have interpreted Duterte’s remarks as a confrontational stance against China but some did not see it that way.

Jay Batongbcal, director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea at the University of the Philippines, said the orders of the President made no sense.

“Ordering the AFP to occupy, build on, and raise the flag over islands and reefs that have already been occupied, built on, and flying the flag for decades initially makes no sense; it can make sense if applied to an island or reef that is currently unoccupied,” he posted on Facebook.

“If what was meant was to simply order the repair of the runway on Pag-asa and the building of new facilities on presently occupied islands, then that’s exactly what should have been said. No more, no less,” he said.

He also said that a new occupation of currently unoccupied areas “will comprise a breach of its commitment in the 2002 Declaration of Conduct of the Parties to the South China Sea to not engage in actions that tend to complicate and escalate the dispute, and to refrain from any new inhabitation of previously uninhabited features.”

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday immediately clarified the President’s statement and said that government troops have been long deployed on nine areas in the disputed South China Sea.

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“The President wants facilities built such as barracks for the men, water and sewage disposal systems, power generators, light houses, and shelters for fishermen,” he said.

The Philippines occupies nine islands, reefs, features in the Spratlys: Ayungin (Second Thomas Shoal), Pagasa (Thitu) Island, Lawak (Nanshan) Island, Parola (Northeast Cay) Island, Patag (Flat) Island, Kota (Loaita) Island, Rizal (Commodore) Reef, Likas (West York) Island, and Panata (Lankiam Cay) Island. JE

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TAGS: AFP, Eduardo Año, facility, islands, naval, Spratlys, Structures, troops, upgrade
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