MANILA - The military plans to build facilities for Filipino fishermen in a Philippine-held island in the Spratlys, a move Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana hopes would not trigger a protest from China.
The construction is part of a bigger rehabilitation plan in the Kalayaan group of islands, including repair of a beat-up runway on Pag-asa during the first quarter this year, he said.
“I don’t think they will protest because our purpose there is peaceful. It is for our fishermen,” he said, referring to Beijing, which is claiming more than 80 percent of the resource-rich South China Sea.
China earlier protested the visit of Lorenzana and other top military officials in Pag-asa in April last year.
Last August, President Rodrigo Duterte halted the military’s construction of nipa huts on Sandy Cay, a group of sandbars located around 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) from Pag-asa Island, following complaints from China.
The huts were supposed to serve as temporary shelters for fishermen.
Lorenzana was optimistic China would not protest the upcoming improvements on the Philippine-held islands, citing the “good dialogue and communication channel” with Beijing through the foreign affairs department.
“Mukhang nawala na yun kasi nakikipag-uusap naman tayo sa kanila,” he said.
Formal negotiations between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are set to begin this year on a code of conduct to help manage tensions in the South China Sea.
A Washington-based think tank earlier sounded the alarm on China’s continuing fortification of its man-made islands in the disputed waters, despite protests from other claimant countries.