By Ian Nicolas P. Cigaral

Duterte tells troops to stake a claim in PHL sea

Posted on April 07, 2017

PRESIDENT RODRIGO R. Duterte has ordered the military to occupy and build facilities on maritime features in the South China Sea that is within the Philippine territory.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte -- PHILIPPINE STAR
Mr. Duterte, in an apparent show of strength against China, made the disclosure in a media interview yesterday after his visit to a military camp in Palawan.

His remarks also came on the heels of a US think tank report saying Chinese defense structures on the Spratly Islands, a South China Sea chain, are near completion.

“There’s so many islands I think nine or 10, let’s erect structures and [raise] the Philippine flag [there],” Mr. Duterte said. “It looks like everybody is making a grab for the islands there, so we better live on those that are still vacant.”

The Defense department later said that nine outcrops “are already in our possession” and occupied by marines, including Thitu island, where the Philippine military maintains an airstrip.

Its statement suggested that Mr. Duterte’s plan was to beef up contingents on the reefs.

“The President wants facilities built such as barracks for the men, water (desalination) and sewage disposal systems, power generators, light houses, and shelters for fishermen,” the Defense department said.

Last year, a United Nations-backed tribunal -- acting on a case brought by the Philippines -- ruled against Beijing’s vast maritime claims on the contested South China Sea, a crucial sea channel where trillion dollars worth of trade passes yearly.

The tribunal also said China violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights by blocking fishing and oil exploration as well as by building artificial islands there.

However, China rejected the ruling and seized most parts of the strategic waterway, including the resource-rich Scarborough Shoal that is considered a traditional fishing area for Filipino fishermen.

Upon Mr. Duterte’s return from Beijing last year, which saw the signing of various bilateral agreements and easing of Philippine-China ties that had soured over the sea dispute, Filipino fishermen were allowed by Chinese vessels to return to the contested waters.

As he sought warmer ties with Beijing, Mr. Duterte has maintained he will not raise yet the arbitral award to Chinese President Xi Jinping, but added “there will be a time” during his term where he will bring the issue “back on the table.”

In the same interview yesterday, the firebrand leader also said he might visit Thitu island on June 12 to mark Philippine Independence Day and raise the nation’s flag there.

China’s foreign ministry said Mr. Duterte will visit China in May to attend a multilateral summit, marking his second visit to Beijing since taking office as he moves away from Washington, Beijing’s strategic rival. -- with a report from AFP