WATCH: Duterte's defense chief asserts claim to West PH Sea
Rappler's Carmela Fonbuena was among the reporters who joined Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana in his visit to Pag-asa island in the West Philippine Sea on Friday, April 21.
Watch her video blog.
CARMELA FONBUENA, REPORTING: President Rodrigo Duterte backed out of his plan to plant a Philippine flag here in Pag-asa Island. It doesn’t mean his defense chief can’t go either. Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters a few months ago he has ordered the military to make arrangements for his trip to Pag-Asa and he invited everyone to join. Now here we are.
DELFIN LORENZANA, DEFENSE CHIEF: This is just a normal visit within our territory which is we believe and we know that it is territory and we are just visiting our territory to look at the conditions of our people here.
Lorenzana brings along the top brass of the military to the West Philippine Sea, sending a strong signal that the Philippines is asserting its claim amid concerns that Duterte is getting too friendly with China.
LORENZANA: We are trying to manage the issue and talk to them one on one, bilaterally settle this dispute in the South China Sea. I believe that the President is right in talking to the Chinese leadership on how to manage the issue here in South China Sea.
The Philippines downplays radio messages from China challenging the two planes of the Philippine Air Force used to fly officials here.
EDUARDO AÑO, PHILIPPINE MILITARY CHIEF: That's just for documentation, for recording purposes.
LORENZANA: We always tell them also that we are flying over Philippine territory.
Pag-asa is the second biggest naturally ocurring island in the Spratlys and the only one occupied by a civilian population. It has a town hall, a school building, a runway and not much else.
AISA BILIDAN, PAG-ASA RESIDENT: Hinihiling namin dati pa na magkaroon ng runway, magkaroon ng daungan ng barko, pier, yun po, hospital. Yoon lang naman po ang mga kailangan dito.
Meanwhile, residents watch China build massive infrastructure in neighboring Subi Reef.
ROMEO MALAGUIT, PAG-ASA RESIDENT: Yung kanilang parola nakikita namin, pati mga ilaw. maliwanag. parang siyudad na rin yan e.
Lorenzana promises Pag-asa residents Duterte will deliver on the long delayed developments.
It is not Lorenzana’s first visit to Pag-asa. But it is for the military chief.
AÑO: I'm so proud. Alam mo kanina noong kumakanta ng national anthem here in Pag-asa, I dont know if you feel that. It's a different feeling.
The new government of Duterte ushers in a new strategy to deal with China. His men are here to guarantee the country’s claims in the West Philippine Sea will not be abandoned. Carmela Fonbuena, Rappler, Pag-asa. – Rappler.com