MANILA - "Protect the Fuga island group."
This was the call of former senator and defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile on Friday, hours after China lauded the Duterte administration for skipping international maritime drills in the West Philippine Sea.
Enrile said in a statement that shielding the Fuga island group, which is located 30 kilometers off the northern coast of Luzon, "is very important and strategic to the national security of the Philippines."
"It is like a dagger pointed at the very heart of the country. If it falls into the hands of a foreign power with immense global ambition to achieve and great national interest to preserve, it will certainly cause the country a very serious and dangerous security problem," he said.
"We must, therefore, never allow the Fuga island group to fall in the hands of or to be controlled by any foreign power, directly or indirectly, and most especially a foreign power like red China."
The Fuga island group is composed of 3 islands, namely Fuga, Barit and Mabbag, all of which are part of Aparri town, Cagayan.
Fuga is the largest and longest of the islands, measuring about 10,000 hectares in flat land, and is around 20 kilometers long and 5 km wide. Barit is around 900 hectares in area, its terrain "rugged with a green cover." Mabbag is the smallest of the islands. Entirely flat, it has an area of around 300 hectares.
Enrile said that if China, one of foreign powers that Manila is disputing with on the West Philippine Sea, was to seize the islands, it would "surely" use them as naval and air force bases to "complement" its military base in Hainan province and its man-made fortified artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea.
"That would immensely enable red China to control that sea lane in South China Sea. And should that happen, it would certainly hurt us, hurt Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and also the United States. Almost one-third of total global trade passes through that sea lane," Enrile said.
The United States earlier branded China's claims in the West Philippine Sea as illegal, ramping up support for Southeast Asian nations.
Enrile pointed out if China were to occupy the Fuga islands, it would "dominate" the overlapping maritime borders between the Philippines and Taiwan in the Balintang Channel off Batanes and it "would pose a very serious strategic problem for us."
"In addition, it would also give the Chinese Liberation Army a convenient logistic base to support whatever activity red China has in mind to do in the area of Benham Rise or Philippine Rise, which is only 350 kilometers away to the east from the Fuga island group," he said.
"Finally, with red China on the Fuga island group, whether directly or indirectly, those three islands could be used to politically subvert and destabilize our society or to supply weapons to strengthen rebel groups in the country."
Enrile said that he has no qualms against China but was "simply doing my duty to my country" in reminding the Philippines government to protect the Fuga islands from occupying foreign forces.
"I am simply warning my countrymen to be very alert and careful in dealing with other nations and peoples whose national or personal interests my differ from the national interests of my own native land."
The Philippine Navy last year said it plans to put up a station in Fuga Island, which drew attention after it was announced that Chinese businessmen secured a deal with the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA) to turn the island into an electronic and online “smart city.”
The Navy expressed concern about the deal, saying it could compromise national security.
--With a report from Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News