BY VICTOR REYES and ASHZEL HACHERO
The Officer in Charge of the Department of National Defense, Jose Faustino Jr, pledged yesterday to prioritize the construction of mission-critical facilities in the islands and elements occupied by Philippine troops in the South China Sea. western disputed in the South China Sea.
Faustino, a former head of the armed forces, made the pledge during a visit to AFP’s (Wescom) Western Command headquarters in Puerto Princesa City.
Wescom is in charge of all military operations in the Western Philippine Sea where soldiers occupy nine areas, the largest of which is the island of Pag-asa, approximately 280 nautical miles northwest of the city of Puerto Princesa .
“As the new DND ICO, I assure Wescom of the continuity of all infrastructure projects under the DND-DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) Tikas Convergence Program,” Faustino said.
The Tikas Convergence Program aims to meet the facility needs of military units across the country.
“We will prioritize mission-critical infrastructure on all Philippine-held islands in the Kalayaan Island Group and the Western Philippine Sea,” Faustino said.
Faustino reiterated President Marcos Jr’s advice for the military to ensure the country’s territory is protected.
The military has improved its facilities in the Western Philippine Sea in recent years.
These include the cementing of the Pag-asa Island runway. The 1.3 kilometer runway is made of coral and poses a hazard to aircraft landing in bad weather.
Meanwhile, China again downplayed the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling that favored the Philippines and invalidated China’s vast claim to the South China Sea.
“The so-called South China Sea arbitration decision seriously violates international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It is illegal, null and void,” said the door. – Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin at a press conference in Beijing, a transcript of which was posted on the ministry’s website.
“China does not accept or acknowledge it and will never accept any claim or action based on the award,” he added.
Wang said Beijing has made its position on the decision clear on several occasions.
By not accepting the decision, Wang said, Beijing is “upholding international law”.
Wang also said that Beijing’s position on the issue has received a warm response from the international community and warned that China will deal with any attempt to infringe on its sovereignty, rights and interests in accordance with the law.
On the sixth anniversary of the landmark July 12 decision, Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo said the decision was “final and incontrovertible”.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in his birthday message, reiterated his support for the Philippines and the arbitration award, and warned that Washington would come to Manila’s aid in the event of an attack or assault.
Manila and Washington are bound by the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951 to come to each other’s aid in the event of invasion or foreign aggression.
Blinken also called on China to end provocative behavior in the South China Sea and respect international laws.
Wang castigated the United States.
“The United States, as a non-regional country, has ignored the history and facts of the South China Sea issue and violated and distorted international law. He broke his public pledge to take no position on sovereignty claims in the South China Sea and sought to drive a wedge between countries in the region and undermine peace and stability in the region. It is extremely irresponsible,” he said.
Wang also said that China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) “fully and effectively implement the Declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea and work actively to make advance consultations on a code of conduct in the South China Sea”. ”
“It was agreed by all parties that the issue of the South China Sea should be handled in a two-track approach, namely that maritime disputes should be handled properly by the countries directly involved in dialogue and consultation and that peace and stability should be jointly safeguarded by China and ASEAN countries,” he added.
Four ASEAN countries – the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam – claim parts of the South China Sea, with Manila calling its part the Western Philippine Sea.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea, while Taiwan occupied the largest island in the disputed waters, Itu Abba.