DAVAO CITY, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte defended his plan to improve facilities in disputed Pag-asa Island amid China's declaration that such activities are "illegal."
"Yes of course, that's part of our duty as a nation," he said when asked by a reporter if he would continue his plans to improve facilities, including a runway and bunkhouses for military, in the island.
Duterte was giving an interview on Monday, May 1, right after visiting 3 Chinese warships docked at Sasa Wharf in Davao City.
Asked about statements from the Chinese embassy calling any activities by the Philippines on Pag-asa Island "illegal," Duterte downplayed the government's plans.
"It's just repairs. Well, they can always look away, look around," he said.
Visits by government officials to Pag-asa Island are routine. The island is home to around 100 Filipino civilians, and has a school building and town hall. (READ: PH military chief says nothing like singing nat'l anthem on Pag-asa)
"We have been there since 1974, by the way," said Duterte, as a reminder.
Despite this, China continues to claim Pag-asa as its own since the island is within the 9-dash line the Asian giant uses to claim virtually all of the South China Sea.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, during his visit to Pag-asa Island, spoke of the government devoting funds to building facilities there and improving the lives of its Filipino community.
"Maraming gustong ipagawa ang ating mahal na Presidente. Mayroon tayong nakalaang pera rito," Lorenzana had said. (Our beloved President wants to build a lot of facilities. We have allotted money for the island.)
The plans include repairs of the dilapidated runway and construction of new facilities, such as a solar power tower, radio tower, desalination plant, fish port, and sewage facility.
It remains to be seen if Duterte will cave in to pressure from China and stop these plans. He already took back a plan to himself fly to Pag-asa Island to raise the Philippine flag on Independence Day, after China asked him not to. (READ: PH plans for Pag-asa to test Duterte's friendship with China) – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.