Duterte expected to visit Pag-asa Island within his term to assert territorial sovereignty

By Genalyn Kabiling

President Duterte is expected to visit Pag-asa Island located in the West Philippine Sea within his term to assert the country's sovereignty over the territory, Malacañang said Friday.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque (PCOO / MANILA BULLETIN) Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque (PCOO / MANILA BULLETIN)

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the President also intends to check the plight of Filipinos living in the far-flung island, which is part of the municipality of Kalayaan, Palawan.

Roque however did not specify the date of the President's visit.

"Tingin ko po darating at darating ang panahon na pupuntahan ni Presidente ang Pag-asa Island. Ang pagbisita ng isang Presidente sa Pag-asa, yan po ay ebidensya ng soberenya ," Roque said in an interview with Palace reporters via Skype.

"At kung hindi man ngayon gagawin yan ni Presidente, tingin ko bago matapos ang termino niya eh magpunta siya doon, hindi lang para ipakita sa buong daigdig ang ating titulo sa Kalayaan, kung hindi na rin para dalawin ang ating mga kasundaluhan, at ang ating mga kababayan na naninirahan doon sa Kalayaan ," Roque added.

Roque made the remarks after Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana reportedly announced the President's possible visit to the area within the year.

Last year, the President was supposed to plant the country’s flag on Pag-asa Island during the country’s Independence Day celebration. Duterte however cancelled the plan “because of our friendship with China.”

Lorenzana and several other military officials, instead, visited Pag-asa Island in April 2017, which sparked a protest from China which claims ownership of almost all islands in the South China Sea. Beijing claimed that such visit runs counter to an earlier consensus to properly deal with the South China Sea issue.

The government however defended Lorenzana’s visit as part of its mandate to ensure the safety and well-being of citizens in the island

Pag-asa Island is the second largest and the only Philippine-occupied territory in the Kalayaan Group of Islands.