MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines has increased the number of troops deployed on five islets, two sand bars and two reefs that it claims in the disputed Spratly islands to bolster its military presence in the contested South China Sea, a senior military intelligence official told Kyodo News on Tuesday.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said at least 126 soldiers were deployed in November last year, 2.5 times more than the previous deployment.
Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban, the Philippine military's commander in the area, neither confirmed nor denied the recent deployment.
"We do not comment on military deployments," Sabban said in a text message to Kyodo News.
Since the 1970s, the Philippines has maintained a security presence, consisting mostly of soldiers, in the five occupied islets, two sand bars and two reefs.
In Thitu Island, known locally as Pag-Asa, the Philippines has also established a civilian community.
Thitu is the seat of government of Kalayaan -- a town of about 95 islands, cays, shoals and reefs that the Philippines claims in the disputed Spratly archipelago, which is claimed in whole or in part by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.