DND calls for 'civilized' conduct in West Philippine Sea as China sends militia

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com
DND calls for 'civilized' conduct in West Philippine Sea as China sends militia
In this February 4 photo, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana speaks about national sovereignty during a National Defense College of the Philippines Alumni forum at Camp Aguinaldo.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana called on other concerned parties to respect Philippine sovereignty as the country repairs its facilities on Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea.

The Defense chief admitted that the presence of Chinese militia near artificial islands in the Spratlys did not come as a surprise as they have been in the area since 2012.

"We expect other countries to respect Philippine sovereignty and to conduct themselves in a civilized manner befitting members of the global community," Lorenzana said in a statement.

This statement comes in response to a report that Chinese paramilitary ships have recently increased in the vicinity of Pag-asa Island.

According to Washington-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, Chinese naval and coast guard ships, as well as fishing vessels have been deployed near Subi Reef, which is 12 nautical miles from Pag-asa.

"In five subsequent satellite images captured from mid-December to late January, their numbers fluctuate, reaching a high of 95 on December 20 before dropping to 42 by January 26," the AMTI reported.

Lorenzana, meanwhile, pointed out that the Kalayaan Island Group, which the Pag-asa Island is a part of, has been part of the Philippines since 1978.

"Improving the safety, welfare, livelihood and personal security of Filipinos in the Municipality of Kalayaan, a distinct and separate town under the province of Palawan, is the government's Constitutional mandate," Lorenzana said.

The Philippine government is currently constructing a beaching ramp on Pag-asa Island, which is expected to be completed by the first quarter of 2019.

The government is also repairing the dilapidated runway on the island and constructing better barracks for soldiers, desalination facilities, sewage disposal system, conventional and renewable power generators, lighthouses, shelters and storage facilities for fishermen.

"These planned modest improvements are basic but nonetheless highly essential in delivering social services to raise the standard of living and improve the quality of life of Filipino citizens on the island," the secretary said.

Rep. Gary Alejano (Magdalo party-list), on the other hand, pointed out that China should not interrupt the Philippines' projects on Pag-asa Island.

The opposition lawmaker and senatorial bet called on the Philippine government to oppose Beijing's recent actions in a move to intimidate the country.

"The aggressive response of China is expected of them because it is what they have been doing in our territorial waters when we carry on with the construction plans in our own islands. Nonetheless, we should protest such actions and continue to assert our rights and control in our territory," Alejano said.

Alejano warned that China has used the "cabbage strategy" by deploying naval, coast guard and militia in the disputed area. The vessels might be used to surround Philippine territories to intimidate government troops.

He also noted that this has been the case with Sandy Cay, a shoal located some 2.5 nautical miles off Pag-asa Island. Chinese coast guard vessels and militia fishing boats have been stationed near the feature since August 2017, driving away Philippine government vessels.





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