The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is looking at improving and expanding a key foothold in one of our islands in the Spratlys. This critical move will essentially reinforce our claims in the West Philippine Sea (WPS). A possible Spratlys Island Base Expansion could not come at a better time, given China’s recent activities in this contested area.
The military is looking at Pag-asa Island (a.k.a. Thitu Island) for this expansion. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, AFP Chief of Staff, explains that they will turn this island into a logistics hub. This is meant to shore up our presence and improve law enforcement operations in the WPS.
Reinforcing Pag-asa, a crucial part of our territory
“If we transform it into a logistics hub, our boats will [go] further and our sovereignty patrol in West Philippine Sea will continue,” said Gen. Sobjeano. “We are patrolling where our fishermen are going as well as where the Chinese ships are staying to make sure that our countrymen will not be threatened or intimidated.”
Pag-asa Island is a crucial part of our territory since 1971. It is the second-largest island in the Spratlys, with a Filipino civilian population of around 300. Consequently, we are essentially entrenched here, as it has a municipal hall and school already. In addition, it also has existing military structures like a communication tower, air strip, and military barracks.
There have been several recent developments here, like the construction of a new port, and upgrades to its airstrip. The military’s announcement of the expansion of this Spratlys Island Base sends a clear message. We are exercising our sovereignty by enhancing our presence in the area.
Defending our national interest
We have recently filed several diplomatic protests against China due to their increased activity in our territory. This is due to the presence of around 300 Chinese maritime militia fishing vessels inside our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana recently said that we can maintain our relationship with China while also protecting our sovereign rights.
“As for our long standing and multi-faceted relationship with China, we maintain cooperation in various areas that are mutually beneficial to our peoples,” said Lorenzana. “We can be cordial and cooperative with other nations but not at the expense of our sovereignty and sovereign rights.”
Lorenzana acknowledges China’s advanced military capability. However, he says that this “does not deter us from defending our national interest, and our dignity as a people, with all that we have.”
“Thus, the conduct of maritime patrol in the WPS and Kalayaan Island Group by the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources will continue. The government will not waver in its position. Walang alisan,” said Lorenzana.