MANILA- Despite China's opposition, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said construction work being undertaken by the military on Pag-asa island in the West Philippine Sea will continue.
AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año on Tuesday said there is no reason to stop the construction and improvement of Philippine facilities on the island since these do not violate the declaration on the conduct of parties in the disputed waters.
"Tutuloy natin 'yun (construction). Wala naman sa violation... nung Declaration ng Code of Conduct yan. You can improve the islands, reefs, shoals that you are presently occupying," he said.
"Ang hindi lang pinapayagan sa declaration of Code of Conduct ay ang pag-occupy, additional area, islands, atolls or reefs," he added.
Pag-asa (Thitu), a part of the Spratly group of islands, is located about 480 kilometres west of Puerto Princesa City in Palawan.
China earlier claimed that construction activities by the AFP on Pag-asa island are "illegal," despite Beijing's island-building and militarization activities in the disputed waters.
Año said the military has sufficient troops deployed on the country's 9 islands, reefs, and atolls in the West Philippine Sea. The area has been declared by the Hague arbitral tribunal as part of Philippine exclusive economic zone.
Bejing, however, has ignored the Philippines' arbitral victory before the international tribunal that invalidated China's expansive 9-dash line claim over nearly all of the South China Sea.
"Ang priority natin ay ma-improve ang kalagayan ng Pag-asa, lalo na yung pag-refurbish at pag-renovate ng runway dito," Año said.
He also clarified reports that a Chinese flag was reportedly put up on a Philippine island.
"It was not a Chinese flag. It was just an indigenous pole with sort of plastics and sacks para... tingin namin ginawa itong guide para sa mga naglalayag," he said, adding that Philippine troops later removed the pole.
Concerns over Chinese presence near Pag-asa island were first raised by Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, which were later supported by satellite images from American think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio also said that Sandy Cay, located some 2.5 miles off Pag-asa island, was being “seized – to put it mildly – or being invaded – to put it frankly – by China.”
Foreign Affairs Chief Alan Peter Cayetano, however, allayed concerns on China's activities in the disputed waters.