By Francis T. Wakefield
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff General Eduardo Año has ordered the deployment of additional troops in seven islands and two shoals in the West Philippine Sea.
The deployment was ordered after President Duterte, in his visit to the AFP Western Command on Thursday, revealed his intention to go to Pag-asa Island on June 12 and raise the Philippine flag there to draw attention to the country’s jurisdiction over the disputed territory.
He also ordered the AFP to occupy all islands/territories and put structures and hoist the Philippine flag.
The 37.2-hectare Pag-asa Island, the second largest land mass in the Spratly group of islands, lies 480 kilometers west of Puerto Princesa City, Palawan. Although the island is being administered as part of Kalayaan in Palawan, it is also being claimed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
“That’s an order from the President and I intend to carry that out. That’s ours as per Arbitration Ruling so we don’t see any problem,” Año said.
“Actually, all the islands there totaling seven, plus the Ayungin Shoal and Rizal Reef, are occupied by our troops. We will reinforce our troops and improve the structures and facilities there,” Año added.
“Within our EEZ (exclusive economic zone) there are submerged lands or rocks that we may occupy but we need to put up structures where our troops can stay. (But) I cannot give you the numbers and location for security reasons,” Año said.
Among the shoals still without structures include Sabina, Alicia Annie, Halfmoon, and Royal Captain Shoal