MANILA–Ranking Philippine defense and military officials see nothing wrong with their decision to visit Pag-asa Island, the largest feature in the Kalayaan Island Group, last April 22.
Earlier, Chinese officials expressed concerns on the visit as it has negated the important consensus reached between Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Rodrigo Duterte on how to settle the South China Sea issue.
“The visit to Pag-asa is part of (Department of National Defense) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s many responsibilities as Head of the DND. He routinely inspects all facilities under the Department’s administrative supervision,” DND public affairs office chief Arsenio Andolong said in a message.
Pag-asa Island is one of those facilities, he added.
“The trip was meant to see what is needed to improve the living conditions, safety and personal security of Filipinos on the island, who rely on their government to see to their welfare in such a far-flung place,” Andolong stressed.
In regards to the Chinese protest on the above-mentioned visit, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Gen. Eduardo Año said it is the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA)’s purview to deal with such matters.
“(It is) within the purview of the DFA. Foreign policy question. As far as the AFP is concern, we visited our troops manning our territory,” he added.
“There is nothing wrong with our visit. It’s part of my job. We never land in any island except ours where our troops are stationed. Pag-asa is a municipality of Palawan,” the AFP chief stressed.
Last Friday, Lorenzana, Año and other ranking officials of the military, along with a select group of media practitioners, visited Pagasa Island.
During the visit, the DND chief bared plans to upgrade existing facilities in the island to the tune of PHP1.6 billion.
Construction projects eyed for Pag-asa Island include the concreting of the 1.2 kilometer-long Rancudo Airstrip, development of ports, installation of additional solar panels and generator sets, desalination plants, new quarters for military personnel and establishment of Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources marine research and shelter center, and an ice plant for storing and preserving the fish caught by the islanders.