MANILA - Retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio on Thursday underscored the need to put up adequate defenses on Pag-asa Island to protect Philippine territorial waters in the disputed West Philippine Sea.
“We are totally defenseless and that is not how we defend our territory. We have to maintain a credible defense force in that island because that is ours. It is only natural that we put up defenses there,” Carpio said on ANC’s Headstart Thursday.
The country’s top defense officials on Tuesday inaugurated a beaching ramp that would let ships dock on Pag-asa Island, a Philippine-occupied feature in the Spratlys.
The island has seen a swarm of Chinese vessels despite being within the country's exclusive economic zone encompassing the West Philippine Sea within the disputed South China Sea.
Pag-asa Island hosts Kalayaan town, a Palawan municipality that is home to a military outpost and a civilian community. It has a school, military barracks, and a landing strip, among other infrastructure.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, in a report by Reuters, said the island would not become a military installation but the purpose of the upgrade is to make the area a viable community.
“We have stationed soldiers there for the longest time ever since we occupied the island, and of course, since it's our island and it's under threat from China,” said Carpio.
An ABS-CBN News team that went to the island on Tuesday reported that several Chinese vessels were near the area, including a white Coast Guard vessel, 2 blue and white barges similar to those circling Scarborough Shoal, and several smaller fishing boats.
Carpio said China’s Subi Reef is just 30 nautical miles away from Pag-asa Island and is “armed to the teeth.”
“It is important to put up adequate defenses because we are always under threat... 24 hours a day the Chinese military militia are in our territorial waters. They are swarming our territorial waters in Pag-asa. They are all around Pag-asa within our territorial waters. We cannot just stay idle, we have to prepare to defend that island,” he said.
Meanwhile, Carpio said the Philippines is suddenly without an ally in helping protect Spratlys from China after Manila terminated the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US.
President Rodrigo Duterte suspended for 6 months the abrogation of the Philippines' VFA with the US due to "heightened super power tensions" as the world reeled from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I see this as a foreign policy, defense policy that is in total disarray. Suddenly, we realized that because we notified the US we are terminating the VFA suddenly, we are without an ally to protect, to help defend Scarborough Shoal, that means we have not thought through the determination of the VFA,” he said.
“How can we stop China when we have already told the US to get out, so we suspended it. But is that enough at this point? China knows that we will terminate the VFA anyway after 1 year because that is what President Duterte said,” Carpio said.