MALACAÑANG on Saturday allayed the “concern” of China over President Rodrigo Duterte’s order for the military to strengthen its presence in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
In a statement, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said that the Philippines remains committed to improving its relations with China.
“The Philippines assures all claimant countries that we remain committed to improving and enhancing our relations with our neighbors and partners in the region,” Abella said.
The Palace official issued the statement after Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying expressed concern following Duterte’s order.
“We hope the Philippine side can continue to properly manage maritime disputes with China and safeguard together the sound and stable situation of China-Philippines relations,” Hua said.
The Chinese official said her country would continue “defending its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea, and safeguarding peace and stability there.”
Abella said Duterte’s order was only meant to assure “the living conditions, safety and personal security of Filipinos in Philippine territory.”
“The President’s position on the matter is clear and has nothing to do with politics. His instructions cover only existing Philippine facilities and Philippine territory,” he said.
In remarks during a camp visit in Palawan last Thursday, Duterte ordered the military to deploy troops and fortify unoccupied islands and reefs claimed by the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea.
Duterte also bared a plan to visit Pag-asa Island, a municipality under Palawan province, and raise the Philippine flag there on June 12, Independence Day.
Abella clarified that Duterte merely wanted Philippine-occupied territory in the South China Sea to be “developed.”
“He wants to develop what we have already occupied,” Abella said.
On Friday, Gen. Eduardo Año, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff, said the military would reinforce troops stationed on eight islands and a shoal, and could still take over territory within the country’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.
“But we need to put up structures where our troops can stay. I cannot give you the numbers and location for security reasons,” said Año in a text message.
The Philippines controls 10 areas in the West Philippine Sea: Pagasa (Thitu) Island, Likas (West York) Island, Parola (Northeast Cay), Lawak (Nanshan) Island, Kota (Loaita) Island, Patag (Flat) Island, Panata (Lankiam Cay), Rizal (Commodore) Reef, Balagtas (Irving) Reef, and Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.