No new PH-claimed island occupied by foreign nation since 2016, lawmaker claims

Anjo Bagaoisan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 06 2020 05:36 AM

MANILA - Philippine-claimed islands in the disputed West Philippine Sea have remained unoccupied by a foreign nation since the start of the Duterte administration, a lawmaker claimed Tuesday.

Bulacan 1st District Rep. Jonathan Sy-Alvarado, sponsor of the proposed 2021 budget of the Department of National Defense (DND), defended the agency's increased funding request by citing how it used its previous budget to augment its defensive presence in the area.

"Patuloy ang maritime at air patrols, ang maintenance ng mga monitoring stations," Sy-Alvarado said.

"Simula ng 2016 walang panibagong islang naokupa ang ibang bansa, bagama't totoong napaganda ang mga istasyon na inookupa ng iba, ito ay sa mga reef o bato lang."

In previous years, China has physically expanded its bases erected on contested portions of the area. 

During his interpellation by Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas, Sy-Alvarado said the defense agency needs the additional budget to further strengthen Philippine bases in the West Philippine Sea, such as purchasing 4 radar facilities.

The DND is proposing a 9% increase in its funding for 2021 to a total of P283.2 billion. 

The agency has already begun enhancing its facilities in 9 Islands, many of which are the biggest in the area, Alvarado said.

It also put up a desalination machine and water treatment facilities at Kalayaan and Mabulis Islands. 

He added that a stronger base would also enable the energy department to freely explore new fuel sources in the area.

Brosas asked about the military's defense of the area in light of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte's statement at the United Nations General Assembly debates in September standing by the country's stake in the territory.

"Kailangang i-claim ng Pilipinas ang West Philippine Sea at hindi pwedeng yumukod tayo sa China sa pag-claim dito. Dapat hindi lang hanggang salita ang pagtanggol sa ating soberanya," she said. 

Among the DND's other planned procurements mentioned in the hearing are attack helicopters from the United States and additional C130 aircraft to aid repatriation efforts amid the pandemic. 

Asked where the agency used the P34 million it received in donations for COVID-19 response, Sy-Alvarado said these were spent to put up and maintain COVID-19 facilities.