PH shores up claim on disputed islands

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NATIONALISM AT WORK  Members of Kalikasan group hold a rally in front of the Chinese Consulate in Makati City to denounce China’s bullying in the West Philippine Sea. PHOTO BY RENE H. DILAN

NATIONALISM AT WORK
Members of Kalikasan group hold a rally in front of the Chinese Consulate in Makati City to denounce China’s bullying in the West Philippine Sea. PHOTO BY RENE H. DILAN

If you can’t stop them, copy them.

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Amid China’s reclamation activities in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), local officials in Palawan province have embarked on a project to promote the Kalayaan group of islands as a tourist spot that will at the same time prop up the Philippines’ claim on the disputed areas.

At the same time, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has given the green light for concerned Philippine agencies to maintain and fix existing facilities in islands being claimed by the country.

Charles Jose, Foreign Affairs spokesman, said in a press briefing that the department distributed its policy guidelines to concerned agencies “a couple of months back.”

Jose said the maintenance of these facilities should be in accordance with international laws and must not violate the 2002 Declaration on the Code of Conduct (DOC).

On Monday, Armed Forces chief Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. visited Pagasa (Thitu) island in the disputed Spratlys to “established the fact” it is a territory of the Philippines.

Catapang met with Kalayaan Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon and discussed with him how the AFP can help in the plan to develop Pagasa into a “backyard tourist spot.”

“I’m visiting this place to establish the fact that Pagasa is a municipality of Palawan and Palawan is a province of the Republic of the Philippines, therefore Pagasa is a territory of the Republic of the Philippines,” the AFP chief pointed out.

Catapang said his visit to the island was also his farewell trip to military troops there since he is set to retire in July this year.

Bito-onon said the local government has been promoting Kalayaan and Pagasa as a tourist spot.

“We have already a roadmap for developing tourism, we have a jump-off station in the mainland, and our building is going on its third phase (of construction). Then we’ll buy shuttle to ferry the passengers or tourists to that place, then we are buying a steel boat so by booking they can be assisted to go to Pagasa or any islands of Kalayaan,” the mayor said.

He added that his office also planned to establish a “pasalubong center” and lodging house for tourists.

Catapang gave assurances that tourists who will visit the islands will be fully protected. He refused to elaborate on the security measures that will be laid out to safeguard tourists.

“What we want to happen is from Palawan, we can pass by Patag Island, Lawak, Likas and then Pagasa. And then from Pagasa we can go back via Panata, Kota Island and then Ayungin shoal and back. It can be good tourism effort,” he said.

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.

The DFA issued the guidelines on the repair and maintenance of facilities in islands being claimed by the Philippines amid reports that Vietnam has also started reclamation activities in disputed areas.

Jose said the department is getting information on the location of Vietnam’s reclamation projects.

China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei Darussalam have competing claims to the region, which is believed to hold vast oil and mineral deposits.

The Philippines filed an arbitration case against China in January 2012 to invalidate its nine-dash line, the basis of its claims that covers 90 percent of the region.

The International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (Itlos) is expected to hand down the decision early next year. Fernan Marasigan and

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