MANILA, Philippines – Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief General Eduardo Año said he will reinforce troops guarding the country’s maritime claims in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) to implement the latest orders of President Rodrigo Duterte.
“That’s an order from the President and I intend to carry that out,” Año said on Friday, April 7.
Año said they are also mulling the occupation of submerged rocks inside the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). He did not provide details.
“Within our EEZ may mga (there are) submerged lands or rocks that we may occupy. But we need to put up structures where our troops can stay. I cannot give you the numbers and location for security reasons,” Año said.
Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), countries have exclusive rights to develop maritime territories inside their EEZs or 200 nautical miles from their baselines.
“Atin naman ‘yan (It is ours) per arbitration ruling so we dont see any problem,” he added.
On Thursday, April 6, during his visit to the Western Command (Wescom), Duterte said he has ordered the military to “occupy all the so many islands, I think 9 or 10. Lagyan ng structures (Build structures) and the Philippine flag.”
Palawan-based Wescom is responsible for protecting the Philippines’ maritime claims in the Kalayaan Group of Islands (Spratlys).
Marines have long been occupying 8 islands, including Pag-Asa, which are under Philippine control. They’ve also turned into a naval outpost the World War II warship BRP Sierra Madre that was grounded in Ayushin Shoal.
“Lahat ng islands doon (All the islands there [under our control]), total of 8 plus the Ayungin Shoal, ay occupied na ng troops natin. We will reinforce our troops and improve the structures and facilities there,” Año said.
Duterte’s latest order is a departure from his passive approach to the maritime dispute upon assuming the presidency. It comes amid his bid to strike warmer ties with China which is claiming virtually the entire sea. – Rappler.com