Manila, April 21 (IANS) A top Philippine official on Friday made a one-day trip to the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana travelled to the island Filipinos call Pag-asa, part of the Spratly Islands, emphasising the country’s military commitment over the contested waters.
Armed Forces spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla told Efe news that the visit was “to conduct a routine inspection and support the approximately 200 Filipino civilians living on the island”.
China, which claims the entire Spratly chain, issued several radio alerts to the C-130, warning it was “flying over their supposed air control area”, Padilla said.
“We did not answer because we were flying over our own territory,” he remarked, referring to the nine islands currently controlled by Manila.
The trip was aimed at strengthening the Philippines’ claim to Pag-asa, as Padilla mentioned the possibility of developing and extending the concrete airstrip on the islet.
Friday’s trip was made following President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to deploy the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to occupy all islands of the Philippines in the South China Sea to bolster the country’s claims.
On April 6, Duterte vowed he would personally travel to the Spratly and raise the Philippine flag there — but less than a week later, he retracted his statement.
Other countries, including the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claim total or partial sovereignty over the Spratly Islands.