PH removes pole marker planted on West PH Sea island
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine military has removed a pole marker planted on a Philippine-occupied island in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea)," Armed Forces chief General Eduardo Año said on Tuesday, August 29.
Año clarified that the item was "not a Chinese flag," contrary to the claim of Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano. (READ: Chinese flag planted on PH-controlled Kota island – Alejano)
"It was not a Chinese flag. It was just an indigenous pole with a sort of plastics and sacks," he said.
The military chief said that the marker was apparently placed there to guide sailors or fishermen who venture out to sea. It was not planted there by the Philippine side, he added.
"Tingin namin ginawa itong guide para sa mga naglalayag. Hindi tayo [ang naglagay ng mga 'yun] (We think it was used to serve as guide to the sailors. We did not put those markers there). But we are the ones that removed it," Año said.
Año did not confirm if the marker was planted by Chinese fishermen on Kota Island as earlier feared. Alejano had earlier raised alarm over Beijing's aggressive behavior in the disputed area in recent weeks.
The pole marker was planted on the Philippine-occupied island days after Chinese ships reportedly swarmed the sandbars near Pag-asa (Thitu) island, the second largest naturally occuring island in the Spratlys that is also occupied by the Philippines.
Both Kota and Pag-asa are part of the Kalayaan Island Group that is attached to the province of Palawan. Pag-asa, where about a hundred Filipinos are residing, serves as the seat of power with its own municipal hall. (READ: Residents of Pag-asa: Life on disputed island)
The Philippine government had since downplayed the concerns of Alejano, a former Marine officer who traces his information to sources in the military.
Alejano was backed by Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who called on the government to protest what he described as an invasion of Philippine territory.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano had downplayed the matter. "There are reasons for the presence of certain vessels, but the situation in the area is very stable," Cayetano said.
President Rodrigo Duterte had also downplayed the issue, saying he would now allow get soldiers killed over a sandbar. (READ: Duterte: Why should I defend West PH Sea sandbar?)
Notwithstanding the President's statements, Año said troops are prepared to defend the West Philippine Sea.
"Mayroon tayong mga kaukulang puwersa diyan. Lahat ng 9 islands, reefs, at atolls ay may mga sundalo (We have the necessary force there. There are troops in all the 9 islands, reefs, and atolls )," Año said.
Año said the military is prioritizing the improvement of facilities on Pag-asa including the renovation of the runway.
Año said that the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea signed by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China in 2002 allows improvements on territories that countries are occupying, but not the occupation of new areas. – Rappler.com