PAGASA ISLAND—Members of the Chinese coast guard challenged the military transport planes carrying Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Armed Forces of the Philippines chief-of-staff Gen. Eduardo Año to Pagasa Island Friday morning.
Pilots of the Airbus Military C-295 and Lockheed C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft received the challenge from Subi Reef, a Chinese-controlled atoll some 30 to 40 nautical miles away from Pagasa Island.
“We replied that we are flying over Philippine territory,” Lorenzana said when asked for details regarding the Chinese challenge.
The Defense chief added that the challenge is automatic and part of the protocol of any country claiming jurisdiction over a particular area, especially when ships and aircraft pass through it.
Aside from the challenge, nothing untoward happened, Lorenzana said.
Other ranking officials aboard the two military aircraft were Army commander Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda and Western Command head Lt. Gen. Raul del Rosario.
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said the Philippines is keeping track of the continued challenges posed by Beijing.
He said while such challenges are normal for countries with overlapping claims, Manila does not take these lightly.
“We mind and we respond appropriately. We have our own challenges and answers to appropriate situations. If it’s bad enough, that could be the basis for a note verbale,” Esperon said.
“A challenge is something that does not help us, but a challenge could be just to identify yourself. But it could also mean, you’re challenging [us] because they think that’s their territory,” he said.
In the same interview, Esperon said the President will still push through with his visit to Pag-asa Island and might even stay overnight.
“Why not? But not now,” he said.
Lorenzana said Friday morning the government will allocate P1.6 billion to improve the Rancudo Airfield in Pagasa Island and construct ports and beaching ramps in the locality.
Lorenzana made the announcement to Filipino troops and local government officials shortly after arriving on the island.
Priority will be given to the construction of a beaching ramp that will allow cargo ships to unload construction materials and other supplies in Pagasa Island, thus expediting the improvement works.
The Defense chief said construction of the facility will start immediately, so that it will be completed and operational before the rainy season starts.
Runway improvements include the concreting of the entire Rancudo Airfield to make it accessible during all types of weather.
Other improvements for Pagasa Island include the construction of a desalination plant, more solar panels and generator sets for power purposes, and the establishment of a Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources marine research and shelter center.
More shelters will be also constructed for military personnel tasked to secure Pagasa Island and other Philippine-claimed features in the Spratly Islands. Other facilities to be erected are a fish port and ice plant.
Lorenzana said he sees no violation in the Philippines’ decision to improve its facilities on Pagasa Island, adding that the country should have done this before as other claimants in the Spratlys have already boosted and modernized their structures.
Pagasa Island is about 280 nautical miles northwest of Puerto Princesa and 579 miles southwest of Metro Manila. The population is estimated at 300, consisting of a single municipality, Kalayaan, and a small elementary school and medical clinic.
Lorenzana said he expected Beijing to protest the developments on the island.
“The protest is just automatic because they are claiming this [Pagasa Island]. However, when they are doing something in other areas which we claim, we also lodge a protest,” he said.
Lorenzana, in his recent talk with Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua, said the Philippine presence on Pagasa Island dates back to the late 1960s. With PNA
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