Palace: Duterte wants to develop already occupied islands
Malacanang clarified on Friday the order of President Rodrigo Duterte for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to occupy all islands of the Philippines in disputed areas of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
“He wants to develop what we have already occupied,” Secretary Ernesto Abella, presidential spokesperson, said in a text message.
The statement came a day after Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana clarified the President’s statement, saying that government troops had long been deployed in nine areas in the West Philippine Sea.
The AFP backed Lorenzana’s statement, saying it would upgrade its facilities on its naval detachments in the Spratlys and not occupy new ones.
In a speech at the Western Command of the AFP in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, Duterte ordered the military to deploy troop and fortify unoccupied islands and reefs claimed by the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea.
“It looks like everybody is making a grab for the islands there, so we better live on those that are still vacant,” Duterte said.
The President said the government would build structures on the said islands to assert our claims over the resource-rich region.
“We have to fortify,” he said. “I must build bunker there or houses, and make provisions for habitation.”
The chief executive also said he would support the development of the airstrip on Pag-asa Island.
“The money is there,” he said. “I don’t know how the Army or the engineering battalion would do it. But, that development there is, has my full support”
Gen. Eduardo Año, the AFP chief, said they would follow Duterte’s order to “reinforce our troops and improve the structures and facilities there.”
In a Facebook post, Jay Batongbacal, director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea at the University of the Philippines, reacted on the confusing statement of Duterte.
“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,” Batongbacal said. “It can make sense if applied to an island or reef that is currently unoccupied.”
“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.
A new occupation of currently unoccupied areas, he said, “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.” /atm
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