Palace defends DND officials’ visit to Pag-asa
Malacañang on Sunday said top defense officials visited Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island in the heavily disputed Spratly archipelago last week as part of the government’s work in looking after its citizens there.
China, which claims almost all of the South China Sea, protested the visit to Pag-asa by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año on Friday.
“[It] is part of the efforts to improve the safety, welfare, livelihood of Filipinos residing and living in the municipality of Kalayaan, which is part of the province of Palawan,” Abella said, referring to the island group in the Spratlys to which Pag-asa belongs.
Commenting on China’s customary challenge to Philippine aircraft flying over the area, Abella maintained the the Philippines “has long been undertaking customary and routine maritime patrol and overflight in the West Philippine Sea, which are lawful activities under international law.”
“Such flights will likewise enable us to reach our municipality,” he added.
The West Philippine Sea is part of the South China Sea within the Philippines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone.
During his visit to Pag-asa with Año, Lorenzana announced that the government would spend P1.6 billion to turn the second-largest island in the Kalayaan group into a tourist destination and a marine research center.
He said the government would repair the airstrip on the island and build a fishport, radio station, power plant, desalination plant and ice plant there.
Glad about the government’s plan, Sen. Sonny Angara urged fellow senators to approve his bill that would transform the Kalayaan island group into one of the major tourist destinations in the Philippines. Angara filed the bill last year.
“With its impeccable beauty, the island is an ideal tourist destination … the rich biodiversity and truly Filipino heritage truly reflects the beauty of a paradise that our country should be proud of,” he said in a statement.
Pag-asa Island is located 480 kilometers off southwestern Palawan. It’s the only Philippine-occupied island in the Spratlys that is inhabited by civilians, mostly families of soldiers stationed there.
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