PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday ordered the military to fortify the country’s controlled islands in the South China Sea in a bid to strengthen Philippine claims over the disputed territories.
“We tried to be friends with everybody, but we have to maintain our jurisdiction now, at least the areas under our control. And I have ordered the Armed Forces to occupy all the so many islands. I think nine or 10. Put up structures and the Philippine flag,” the President said in an interview in Camp Ricarte in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan.
“We have to fortify [these areas]. I must build bunkers there or houses and make provisions for habitation,” he added.
Duterte said that he plans to visit Pag-asa (Thitu) Island on Independence Day, June 12, to raise the Philippine flag there.
Duterte said he was willing for the government to spend for fortifications in the islands, including the repair of an airstrip in Palawan.
“These islands might be taken, so at least we should keep what is ours and make a strong point there that these are ours,” Duterte said.
“The money is there…. The development there has my full support, and we will spend for fortifications,” he said.
Duterte also reiterated his plan to change the name of Benham Rise, another territory claimed by the country in the Pacific Ocean, to “Philippine Ridge.”
“I will officially claim it as ours and rename,” he said.
In a statement, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said government troops are present in each of the nine islands in the West Philippine Sea.
“We have nine islands in the Kalayaan Island Group or KIG that are already in our possession. We have Philippine Marine troops in every one of them,” he said.
He added that Duterte has ordered the repair of facilities on Pag-asa island.
“The President wants facilities built such as: barracks for the men, water [desalination] and sewage disposal systems, power generators, lighthouses, and shelters for fishermen,” he added.
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