PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte wants regular patrols near the islands of Batanes province amid China’s land reclamation activities in the South China Sea.
The president, who visited the northern province on Sunday after a series of earthquakes hit Itbatan town at the weekend, said the Philippine Coast Guard should ensure Batanes “remains ours.”
“You might want to ask the Coast Guard to come here,” Mr. Duterte told Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana during a briefing with Batanes officials, according a transcript emailed by the presidential palace. “Not everyday but just to assure that those islands will remain ours.”
Mr. Duterte said the government had bought a fast boat that the Coast Guard could use to patrol the northern islands.
He said China is known to have grabbed some lands and the Philippines cannot afford to do the same. “If we steal from China, we might get fired at by missiles,” he said in Filipino. It’s the government’s job, he added to “preserve the Republic of the Philippines.”
The Coast Guard last week took delivery of assets meant to upgrade its sea patrol capabilities and response to natural disasters. The assets included 73 rubber boats with outboard motors, 12 rigid-hulled inflatable boats, 90 pickup trucks, seven buses and five ambulances.
China’s neighbors are racing to empower their Coast Guard fleets amid increasing tensions in the South China Sea.
China claims sovereignty over more than 80 percent of the South China Sea based on its so-called nine-dash line drawn on a 1940s map.
It has been building artificial islands in the disputed Spratly Islands and setting up installations including several runways.
Mr. Duterte has sought closer investment and trade ties with Beijing, including over resources in the disputed sea, since he assumed office in 2016.
His predecessor, Benigno S. Aquino III, sued China before an international arbitration tribunal over its territorial claims, and won. He also strengthened Philippine alliance with the US to try to check China’s expansion in the main waterway. — Arjay L. Balinbin