THE military is planning to transform Pag-asa (Thitu) Island into a logistics and recreational hub which it sees as a way to improve naval patrols in the West Philippine Sea, Armed Forces chief Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said on Tuesday, amid China’s efforts at intimidation.
There have been attempts to put in order the military’s positioning–in terms of areas where the troops can stay–where soldiers deployed in the West Philippine Sea would be “comfortable”, especially for Marines in the Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal on board the grounded BRP Sierra Madre, Sobejana said.
In an interview over radio dzBB, the military chief said they propose “to transform our municipality there [in Pag-asa Island] into our logistics hub” for refuelling and refilling supplies for Philippine ships.
Sobejana also said they were also considering building a recreational facility on the island “for our sailors to stop by so they can be amused, which means we are going to build a recreational facility so our sailors’ lives will be balanced”.
“While [the sailors] are patrolling or after patrols, they can go there in Pag-asa where they can tour and have themselves relaxed,” Sobejana said.
Sobejana’s statements come amid the continued aggressive behavior by China towards Philippine naval, coast guard and air assets in the West Philippine Sea, which have prompted the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to file several diplomatic protests against Beijing.
The latest stems from China’s harassment of Philippine Coast Guard vessels at the Bajo de Masinloc or the Scarborough Shoal.
Sobejana said, however, that what happened was not harassment but a “template” challenge against Philippine ships.
“It was only a challenge. That has been their template. Everytime they see ships from the navy, coast guard, and even BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources), they would pose a challenge,” he said.
But these challenges, Sobejana said, did not intimidate Philippine ships, which would counter China’s challenges with their own in the territory.
“We are not intimidated by the challenges, it’s just a challenge,” he said. “I don’t see those as harassment but only a challenge. China is hoping to intimidate our fishermen but because of our presence, we gave our fishermen protection and they are not afraid every time there are ships from the Philippine Navy, coast guard and BFAR.”
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