MANILA - (UPDATE) The Philippines is building five lighthouses on the Kalayaan Group of Islands, a feature of Spratlys claimed by Manila in the West Philippine Sea, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said Wednesday.
This, amid recent reports of China's continued militarization of the disputed waters.
"We note with serious concern the growing militarization in the area, such as the deployment of military assets, especially on features near the Philippine territory," Esperon said.
In a separate statement, Esperon said the lighthouses are being built to “provide navigational safety for all international vessels” in the busy waterway, part of the Philippines’ obligation under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Esperon said the lighthouses were being built on Likas Island, Parola Island, Patag Island, Kota Island, and Pag-asa Island, which is the second largest naturally occurring feature in the disputed sea.
Esperon also confirmed an earlier report of a US think tank that Manila is now upgrading its port and airstrip in Pag-asa Island “in line with efforts to promote the welfare of Filipinos living in the said island.”
“This is necessary for trade, the preservation of the livelihood of the fisherfolk, and the timely delivery of basic necessities of the community in the Municipality of Pag-asa,” he said.
China has built several artificial islands in the disputed waters and equipped them with runways, missile systems, and communication facilities.
Earlier this month, Beijing confirmed that it has installed missiles in the Spratly islands but claimed that the move "targets no one."
Critics have been urging the government to protest China's recent activities, but the administration has preferred to deal with the matter quietly.
Opposition lawmakers and maritime experts have called on Manila to assert its rights over the resource-rich waters, especially that it now has the backing of an arbitral tribunal which invalidated China’s economic claims to the sea.
Esperon said the Philippines is not abandoning the ruling, echoing the position of the Palace and Manila’s foreign affairs ministry.
“This is merely set aside in the meantime, in line with the efforts of government at promoting peace, stability, and cordial relations among claimant countries in the region,” he said.
“At the proper time, we will take full advantage of the tribunal ruling, even as China refuses to recognize this, to serve as basis for the country’s exercise of sovereignty and jurisdiction over features that are in the Philippine territorial waters.”
Esperon said the Philippine government continuously monitors these actions.
“In response to these actions, the Philippine government has not been remiss in undertaking diplomatic actions against any nation. In particular, the Department of Foreign Affairs had been raising such issues and concerns at the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) between China and the Philippines.”
- With reports from Arianne Merez and Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News