MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines on Tuesday, May 2, asserted its ownership of Pag-asa Island in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) after China said it is “illegal” for Filipinos to occupy it.
“Pag-asa Island and the larger Kalayaan Island Group are a municipality of Palawan,” Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Robespierre Bolivar said in a statement on Tuesday.
Pag-asa Island is found in Kalayaan, a town created by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1978, which is now home to around 180 Filipinos with their own mayor.
Still on the town of Kalayaan, Bolivar added, “Any visit or activity we undertake there is part and parcel of our constitutional mandate to ensure the safety, well-being, and livelihood of our citizens living in this municipality.”
Bolivar was reacting to a statement made by Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua on the sidelines of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s inspection of 3 Chinese warships docked in his hometown, Davao City.
Referring to the disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea, Zhao said on Monday, May 1: “We view the occupation by the Philippine side of those islands as illegal. And so the buildings on it are also illegal.”
China earlier criticized the Philippines after Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana led security officials in visiting Pag-asa Island.
Duterte on Monday had defended the Philippines’ plans to improve facilities in Pag-asa Island, saying it is part of the government’s duty.
Still, despite the dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea, Duterte is bent on boosting ties with the Asian giant and moving away from the Philippines’ traditional ally, the United States.
On Monday, Duterte said his trip to 3 Chinese warships “is part really of confidence-building and goodwill – and to show that we are friends.” – Rappler.com
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