Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s visit to Pag-asa Island in Palawan is legal, the Palace said Sunday. Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella issued the statement after China challenged two Philippine fighter planes carrying Lorenzana and other Palawan officials who went to the island, one of the biggest in the Spratlys, on Thursday.
Lorenzana said the Chinese warned them that they are entering Chinese territory.
“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. The visit of the Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to Pag-asa Island is part of the efforts to improve the safety, welfare, livelihood of Filipinos residing and living in the municipality of Kalayaan, part of the province of Palawan,” Abella said in a statement.
“Such flights will likewise enable us to reach our municipality,” Abella added.
The Philippines won its case against China in 2016 when the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague threw out China’s claim in almost all of the South China Sea based on its nine-dash-line policy.
Also on Sunday, Rep. Gary Alejano of Magdalo party-list urged the government to file a diplomatic protest against China for the harassment of Filipino fishermen last month.
At least 25 fishermen who left Mariveles, Bataan on March 27 arrived at Union bank in the Spratly islands on April 5. They said they saw concrete buildings that were not there last year.
But 30 minutes after dropping anchor, a speedboat with seven Chinese navy members approached and fired shots in the air, prompting the crew to hide in the boat. They later saw a big gray Chinese ship patrolling nearby.
“It was suggested [during our conversation]that concerned local government units condemn the actions of the Chinese Navy, demand apology and explanation, urge the Philippine government to file a diplomatic protest [against China]as well as lay down a strategy on how to support the livelihood of the affected fishermen and protect their safety at sea,” Alejano, a former Marine captain, said in his Facebook post late Saturday night.