WASHINGTON DC – Retired Philippine Navy Captain and now Viriginia resident Domingo Tucay Jr was a a young lieutenant and an intelligence officer in a secret mission ordered by then President Ferdinand Marcos to land Filipino troops in the Spratly Islands in 1970.
“It was so secret... the captain could only open this sealed envelope when he passed a certain point,” Tucay said in Filipino.
He shared pictures and mementoes with ABS-CBN News, showing how they occupied the 7 islands, now known as the Kalayaan Group of Islands.
The Kalayaan Group of Islands is the Philippines’ foothold on the disputed Spratly Islands.
“When we landed, we were unopposed. There was no human habitation, all we saw were turtles, birds and vegetation, but there were no trees,” Tucay said.
They laid claim on the islands, reading proclamations and raising the Philippine flag on each islands.
Months after the Philippines garrisoned the islands, other countries took notice,.
“We received reports from the island commander that other troops have occupied Pugad Island. We found out later that they were South Vietnamese troops. We reported this, and the guidance from headquarters was let it be,” Tucay said.
Capt. Tucay returned to the Spratlys in 1978, this time as the skipper of a patrol ship escorting transport ships carrying Marines, "Seabees" or members of the Navy construction brigade, bigger guns, building materials and coconut trees.
He says this happened at the peak of the Philippine Navy, when it had the best ships and sailors and was emulated by neighboring navies.
But with the stakes raised by the discovery of oil and gas in the Spratly Islands, the Philippines is now trying to recapture this lost era.