PUERTO PRINCESA — The government is poised to enhance its capability to defend the West Philippine Sea and the Benham Rise by deploying more troops and building more infrastructure in those areas in the coming months.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the government will pour in military resources in western waters to monitor events there. On top of its list is the construction of a concrete runway on Pag-asa Island, part of the disputed Spratly Islands.
"May kautusan ang presidente (Rodrigo Duterte), na sa Pag-asa Island, (dapat) pagandahin ang facilities. Priority project in the next months is the repair of our runway in Pag-asa, so we can go there anytime," said Lorenzana during the commemoration here of the 41st anniversary of the Western Command.
(The president ordered the improvement of facilities on Pag-asa Island. A priority project in the next months is the repair of our runway in Pag-asa Island, so we can go there anytime.)
Lorenzana said Duterte has also allocated funds to develop other islands in the Spratlys. The military is also enhancing its defense capabilities in southern Palawan.
"Magtatayo tayo mg runway at saka port, pier para sa ating mga barko. Medyo bulag tayo diyan ngayon, wala tayo masyadong puwersa diyan," Lorenzana said.
(We will build runways and a port, a pier, for our ships. We have minimal forces deployed there.)
The defense department is also building infrastructure in Benham Rise, where Chinese ships were spotted doing what China claimed were "maritime research" activities.
"May plano si presidente na magtayo tayo ng istraktura doon para makita ng tao na tayo ang may-ari noon," Lorenzana said.
(The president’s plan is to build structures there so that people will see that we own the island.)
But Lorenzana maintained that he did not have information on any deals with China regarding Benham Rise. On Thursday, Malacañang said Lorenzana was told of China’s activities in the region.
"Iyong lumalabas na survey ng [China] doon, hindi ko alam ang detalye noon. Hindi ko pag-uusapan iyan," he said.
(I do not know any details about China’s survey there. I will not talk about it.)
He also kept mum on why he was kept in the dark on a deal supposedly made by Duterte and China regarding Benham Rise.
"I will not mention anything about iyong sinabi ni presidente sa presscon niya . . . No comment muna ako diyan dahil I will wait for more diyan sa Malacanang," he said.
(I will speak of what the president said during his press conference . . . I will make no comments because I will wait for word from Malacanang.)
On Friday, presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella denied that Chinese vessels were in Benham Rise to monitor the alleged presence of US submarines.
"We have not heard of such information. Be that as it may, the president will not allow that, as he said in numerous occasions that he does not want the Philippines to be caught in the middle of a conflict between the United States and China," he said in a text message to media.