MANILA - Efforts to improve Philippine facilities on the Pag-asa Island in the disputed South China Sea are legal despite China's contrary remarks, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Tuesday.
In a statement, DFA spokesperson Robespierre Bolivar maintained the legality of the country's activities on the island, the largest Philippine-occupied feature in the disputed Spratlys.
"Pag-Asa Island and the larger Kalayaan Island Group are [part of] a municipality of Palawan," Bolivar said of the island, which hosts a military detachment and a community.
"Any visit or activity we undertake there are part and parcel of our Constitutional mandate to ensure the safety, well-being, and livelihood of our citizens living in this municipality," he said.
Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua earlier said Philippine activities on the Pag-asa Island, located in the disputed South China Sea, is illegal.
This even as China has even ramped up island-building and militarization activities in the disputed waters, ignoring a Philippine arbitral victory before an international tribunal that had invalidated its expansive nine-dash line claim over nearly all of the South China Sea.
"I think the policy is we'll adhere to the peaceful negotiation, to find a peaceful solution. But our position, I have said, we view that as illegal," he said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier said the government will be starting to build facilities on the Pag-asa island, with a beaching area or port the first on the agenda.
He recently visited the island with top military officials.
Once the area is finished, Lorenzana said, all other improvements to Pag-asa Island can begin, such as upgrades to the existing unpaved airstrip, and a taller flagpole with a bigger flag to be flown at the military detachment.
The Philippines and China are set to finally sit down in long-stalled bilateral talks on the dispute this month.