PH lawmakers want to visit Spratlys, too
MANILA, Philippines – Members of the Philippine House of Representatives told Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr they also want to visit the disputed Pag-asa island (Thitu) in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
"I was approached by some congressmen and they also want to visit the island. They were also asking me how they can help Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon. It (my visit) has created an awareness among congressmen," Catapang told reporters in a recent interview in Camp Aguinaldo.
Catapang visited Pag-asa island on Monday, May 11, in the first known trip of a Philippine military chief to the disputed island since retired General Hermogenes Esperon Jr in 2008.
"They are our legislators. They might want to look into the situation there and maybe improve the people's livelihood," Catapang added.
The island – which is also claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam – is home to about 100 Filipinos.
Before Catapang's, the last high-profile visit to Pag-asa island by Philippine officials was in 2011 when former Akbayan party-list Representative Walden Bello led members of the House of Representatives to a "peace" mission to the island.
These visits were met with protests from China. It called Catapang's visit "futile and illegal." But Catapang dismissed China's comment and vowed to return to the island before he retires in July.
"We are planning something bigger. So I just want to make you excited," he said.
The visit comes in the wake of China's massive reclamation in the disputed region, which has prompted concerns from the US.
The Americans are now planning to send ships and aircraft to the West Philippine Sea, a move that was welcomed by the Philippine military. Catapang said the Americans can use the Ulugan Bay in Palawan for their assets. – Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler.com
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