The Philippines wants to spend about $1 million to improve military structures on disputed islands in the South China Sea, the Navy chief said on Tuesday, despite warnings from China to stay away from the area.
China warned its neighbors last week to stay away from the Spratlys (Kalayaan group of Islands) in the South China Sea, claiming it holds "indisputable sovereignty" over the waters that command strategic sea lanes and hold potential resources.
The Philippines has stationed dozens of soldiers on at least nine islands in the Spratlys, a string of contested reefs, islets, atolls and islands believed to be rich in fishing grounds, minerals, and oil and gas resources.
"For this year, our budget allows us only maintenance work for these facilities. So, we need additional funds to improve the facilities," Vice Admiral Ferdinand Golez, the Navy chief, told reporters, referring to Philippine structures in the Spratlys.
"We should give priority to their billeting requirements because of the conditions in the area. During severe weather conditions, it's hard to live there," Golez said referring to Philippine troops on the disputed islands.
Golez said the military would spend more than P50 million ($1.05 million) to upgrade existing facilities in nine Philippine-held islands, some of which are totally submerged during high tide.
The Philippines, he said, was aware of restrictions against building new structures and occupying new territories in the Spratlys under a non-binding code of conduct among the 10-member Southeast Asian states and China.
Four members of the Association of the South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) -- Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam -- as well as China and Taiwan have conflicting claims on the Spratlys.
Golez said work on the Philippines' existing facilities would not violate the code of conduct, noting that other claimant states have done similar improvements in the area.