Amid growing tensions in the West Philippine Sea fueled by reported intrusions by Chinese vessels and aircraft into areas within Philippine jurisdiction, a Philippine Navy ship dropped anchor the other day off Pag-Asa Island in the Kalayaan Island Group in the Spratlys.
Navy supply ship BRP Benguet (LST 507) unloaded troops and fresh provisions and will return to its base in Palawan shortly after completing its delivery.
Pag-Asa, also called Isla, is the biggest of the seven islets in the Kalayaan group occupied by Filipino troops and is also home to 60 civilians. Aside from China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei also have claims in the Spratly Islands which is believed to contain huge deposits of oil and gas.
The country’s biggest warship, World War II-era BRP Rajah Humabon, has been also deployed for routine patrol within the Philippines’ territorial waters near Palawan.
At Malacañang, Secretary Ricky Carandang of the President’s Communications group reiterated that the country’s right to defend its territories was not meant to agitate China. He said the Philippines would continue discussions with China through all channels. He added that the visit of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. to China would give him the chance to discuss with Chinese officials improving bilateral ties.
The Palace also said there was no need to convene the National Security Council (NSC) as proposed by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile. The Palace earlier welcomed statements from the United States, Australia and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) calling for a peaceful resolution of the West Philippine Sea dispute.
A United States defense official, meanwhile, reiterated the US readiness to assist the Philippines in its defense needs. Vice Admiral William E. Landay III, Director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), gave the assurance recently during a meeting with Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Cuisia.
Last week, US Ambassador Harry K. Thomas Jr. made the same assurance and stressed the preeminence of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in settling territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea.
The Philippines has also brought the matter before the United Nations.