Rody eyes visit to Spratlys
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.