Duterte Ordered Military Plant Flags in 10 Islands, Upgrade runway in Spratly, rename Benham to RIDGE

Duterte Ordered Military Plant Flags in 10 Islands, Upgrade runway in Spratly
Spratly Islands in the West Philippines Sea, Province of Palawan

President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the military to occupy and fortify all Philippine-held islands in the West Philippine Sea (South  China Sea)  to assert the country’s claims amid what he says is a race to control territory in the area.

“We tried to be friends with everybody but we have to maintain our jurisdiction now, at least the areas under our control,” he said during a visit to a military camp in western Palawan province.

Duterte said he has ordered the armed forces to occupy and place Philippine flags on all islands, reefs and shoals controlled by the Philippines.

“There are about nine or 10 islands there, we have to fortify,” he said. “I must build bunkers there or houses and provisions for habitation.”

Duterte said he may visit one of the islands, Pag-asa, to plant a Philippine flag on Independence Day. He said money has been budgeted to repair the runway on Pag-asa, home to a small fishing community and Filipino troops.

Since taking office in June, Duterte has worked to mend ties with China that were strained under his predecessor over the territorial disputes.

President Duterte, who on the campaign trail joked that would jet ski to a Chinese man-made island in the South China Sea to reinforce Manila's claim, said he may visit a Philippine-controlled island to raise the national flag.

Duterte's plan is unlikely to sit well with China, which lays claim to almost all the South China Sea, despite a fast-warming relationship between the two sides in recent months.

The Philippines occupies nine "features", or islands and reefs, in the South China Sea, including a World War II-vintage transport ship which ran aground on Second Thomas Shoal in the late 1990s.

Duterte told reporters he would visit the island of Thitu, the largest of the Philippine-controlled Spratly Islands, and build a barracks for servicemen operating in the area.

"In the coming Independence Day, I may go to Pagasa island to raise the flag there," Duterte told reporters, using the local name for Thitu.

The Philippines marks 119th year of independence from more than three centuries of Spanish rule on June 12.

Thitu is close to Subi Reef, one of seven man-made islands in the Spratlys that China is accused of militarising with surface-to-air missiles, among other armaments.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims in the strategic waters.

Duterte's comment made at a military base on Palawan island, near the disputed waters, came two days after Manila's acting foreign minister said China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations had made progress on a framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea.

Duterte announced his "separation" from the United States in October, declaring he had realigned with China as the two agreed to resolve their South China Sea dispute through talks.

His efforts to engage China, months after a tribunal in the Hague ruled that Beijing did not have historic rights to the South China Sea, marks an astonishing reversal in foreign policy since he took office on June 30.

Last month, Defence Minister Delfin Lorenzana said the military would strengthen its facilities in the Spratlys, building a new port, paving an existing rough airstrip and repairing other structures.

Chinese coast guard vessels prevented a Philippine nationalist group from planting a Filipino flag on a rocky outcrop in another part of the South China Sea in June.

Duterte said last month it was pointless trying to challenge China's fortification of its man-made islands and ridiculed the media for referring to his comment that he would jet ski to one Beijing's reclaimed reefs.

"We cannot stop them because they are building it with their mind fixed that they own the place. China will go to war," he said. "People want me to jet ski. These fools believed me."

An impeachment complaint has been filed against him that cites, among other things, his alleged failure to protest China’s territorial expansion in the South China Sea.

Rival claimants, including the Philippines and Vietnam, have expressed alarm over Beijing’s building of artificial islands in the disputed region.

“It looks like there’s a race to grab islands,” Duterte said. “What is ours now, we should get and make a strong point that it is ours.”

Benham Rise to "Philippine Ridge"

President Duterte Renaming
President Duterte Renaming "Benham Rise" to "Philippine Ridge"

Duterte also said that he will rename Benham Rise — a potentially resource-rich undersea region off the country’s northeast coast — the Philippine Ridge.

Benham Rise is on the opposite side of the Philippines from the area at dispute in the South China Sea. The U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf confirmed in 2012 that Benham Rise is part of the extended continental shelf of the Philippines.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has said that Chinese survey ships were seen crisscrossing the Benham Rise area last year resulting the Philippines to protest such incident.

China recently said that they respect and recognized the Sovereign Rights of the Philippines over the Benham Rise and is not contesting it.
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