Rody eyes visit to Spratlys

The Philippine Star - - NEWS - By JAIME LAUDE

Pres­i­dent Duterte plans to visit Pag-Asa Is­land in the Spratlys in the South China Sea, De­fense Sec­re­tary Delfin Loren­zana re­vealed yes­ter­day.

Loren­zana said the Pres­i­dent made known his plan to visit Pag-Asa Is­land but sub­se­quently dropped this be­cause he wants to pre­serve the coun­try’s good re­la­tions with China.

“It was just post­poned. He will visit (Pag-Asa) in the fu­ture,” Loren­zana told re­porters when asked if Duterte still in­tends to push through with his Pag-Asa Is­land trip fol­low­ing his visit to the Philip­pine Rise.

Loren­zana hinted he might be vis­it­ing Pag-Asa Is­land some time this year. The de­fense chief was in the is­land town last year.

Pag-Asa Is­land is the big­gest of the nine Philip­pine mil­i­tary out­posts in the dis­puted re­gion and is only 12 nau­ti­cal miles from Bei­jing’s man-made is­land at Zamora (Subi) Reef.

Dur­ing his visit at the Western Com­mand head­quar­ters in Puerto Princesa City in April 2016, Duterte or­dered the mil­i­tary to oc­cupy the un­in­hab­ited is­lands in­side the coun­try’s mar­itime wa­ters in the West Philip­pine Sea.

He also de­clared that he might go to Pag-Asa Is­land to him­self raise the flag there, and even joked about re­plac­ing the rusty Navy ves­sel BRP Sierra Madre at Ayun­gin Shoal with a lux­ury ship for the sol­diers guard­ing the area.

The Sierra Madre out­post, as well as the Rizal Reef De­tach­ment, are the most chal­leng­ing area of as­sign­ments for sol­diers de­ployed for mar­itime and sovereignty du­ties.

Sources, mean­while, said Duterte’s visit to Pag-Asa Is­land would lift the morale of the sol­diers de­ployed in the dis­puted re­gion as well as the lo­cal res­i­dents in the is­land town.

“I don’t see any im­pli­ca­tion at all. If the Pres­i­dent will come and visit the is­land town, it is just like him vis­it­ing his con­stituents in towns and vil­lages in the prov­inces like those in Cebu or Bu­la­can,” the se­cu­rity of­fi­cial said.

“It is just that our Pres­i­dent is go­ing to visit the com­mu­nity. There’s noth­ing wrong with that. He is just plan­ning to visit his con­stituents and is not bring­ing in the mis­siles there.”

Of­fi­cials, how­ever, are mum over Duterte’s plan to visit the is­land.

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