PH expresses interest to develop occupied features in South China Sea -- AFP Chief

Romeo Brawner Jr.jpg
AFP Chief, Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. (Photo by Martin A. Sadongdong / MANILA BULLETIN)

The government is looking to develop the island features that the Philippines occupies in the South China Sea, according to the top official of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

AFP Chief, Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said this is to make all the features more habitable for the troops guarding them.

"What we are actually trying to do is we are making these features more habitable for our troops. We have marines there," Brawner said.

"We’re trying to improve all especially the islands that we occupy. The development of the facilities are on-going," he added.

The Philippines is occupying a total of nine features in the Spratly's Group of Islands within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), including Pag-asa (Thitu) Island, the biggest among the nine, which is located some 480 kilometers from Palawan.

It also includes Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal where an aging Philippine Navy warship, BRP Sierra Madre, was deliberately ran aground in 1999 to serve as an outpost.

Chinese vessels usually deploy their coast guard and navy ships to deny the Philippine boats from delivering supplies to troops manning the BRP Sierra Madre.

"We’re trying to give them some equipment like desalination machines to help them make water so they would no longer rely to our resupply mission or from the rain just to have water. We also gave them some means for them to communicate with their families," Brawner said.

Other features are Rizal (Commodore) Reef, Patag (Flat) Island, Panata Island (Loaita Cay), Kota (Loaita) Island, Lawak (Nanshan) Island, Parola Island (Northeast Cay), and Likas (West York) Island).

The AFP Chief said that the features already have cement structures such as living quarters but these are too small for the troops.

"We have very small facilities that we need to improve on," he said.