Philippines to keep military presence in Ayungin shoal, says Lorenzana

Jorge Cariño, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 20 2018 04:35 PM

Marines fold a Philippine flag during a flag retreat ceremony on board BRP Sierra Madre, a marooned transport ship in the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, March 29, 2014. Erik De Castro, Reuters

MANILA - The Philippines will continue to deploy troops to a Manila-claimed reef in the West Philippine Sea amid China's threatening moves in the area.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana assured the public Thursday that the Philippine government would not hesitate to protest any aggression from China in the disputed waters.

"We will still patrol and we will keep on protesting kung mayroon tayong nakikita tayong mga actions 'yung Chinese (if we see Chinese actions) that are not consistent with our national interest, we are going to protest China,” Lorenzana told reporters.

Troops will continue to be deployed to the marooned ship that has served as a detachment on Ayungin Shoal, part of the town of Kalayaan in Palawan.

Manila keeps military presence in the area through BRP Sierra Madre, which ran aground on the shoal in 1999. 

“The people at the Sierra Madre will still be there," he added.

Beijing continues to assert ownership over the vast majority of the South China Sea despite a 2016 arbitral ruling that invalidated its 9-dash line claim. The Philippines calls its exclusive economic zone in the disputed waters as the West Philippine Sea. 

The Philippines has long been at odds with China over the contested waters but ties have substantially warmed under the leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Lorenzana also bared plans to improve living conditions of soldiers stationed in Pag-asa Island, the largest Philippine-controlled feature in the disputed Spratlys. 

“Bigyan naman natin sila ng magandang tirahan, mga barracks, especially dun sa Pag-asa," he said.

(Let's give them a nice home, barracks in Pag-asa Island.)

The Philippines in November last year began upgrading military facilities on the island, including the construction of a beach ramp.

Lorenzana said the beach ramp, which is already 42 percent complete, is expected to be finished by the end of 2019.