The suspension of construction work on Pagasa (Thitu) island does not mean that the Philippines is giving up its claim on the disputed territory, Malacañang said on Saturday.
Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said the government’s decision to stop the repair of a military runway on the island will not undermine the country’s claim.
“We have existing measures in place that provides services to our constituents. This [decision to suspend infrastructure development]won’t weaken our position,” Valte said in a radio interview.
“We wanted to maintain the moral high ground in light of the case we filed at the [UN] arbitration tribunal regarding the West Philippine Sea,” she added.
Pagasa is one of the biggest islands in the Spratlys. It lies about 480 kilometers west of Puerto Princesa City in Palawan, well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. The island is also claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam.
“As you all know, we have adopted a position that we will not do anything to escalate tensions to conduct any action that will be construed as provoking the other side on this issue. After the assessment of that particular situation, it was concluded that it would be best for the time being, considering that we have already filed a case to maintain our footing in that particular issue,” Valte said.
She said the upgrade of the runway was stopped in the middle of this year.
The airstrip is used mainly by military aircraft to resupply Filipino troops guarding the island and as well as a small civilian community there.
The airstrip, as well as the acquisition of ships for the Navy, are part of Aquino’s efforts to upgrade the capability of the military.
China has refused to take part in UN arbitration with the Philippines, and warned Manila that bilateral ties will suffer.
The two countries have been involved in several tense confrontations in the South China Sea in recent months.