THE HEAD of the Philippine military checked state facilities and tried to boost the morale of troops on Thitu Island in the South China Sea on Friday, according to the Armed Forces.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Andres C. Centino “assured the troops of support from the AFP general headquarters,” the military said in a statement on Sunday.
The island, which the Philippines calls Pag-asa, is part of the resource-rich Spratly Islands. It is about 12 nautical miles from China’s air and naval base at Subi Reef.
China took hold of Subi, which the Philippines calls Zamora, in 1988.
Mr. Centino led ceremonies where he awarded Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, the new commander of the AFP Western Command, a three-star rank.
President Rodrigo R. Duterte led a foreign policy pivot to China away from the US when he took office in 2016.
Critics have accused the tough-talking leader of gambling Philippine territories to appease China, from which he got about P1.2 trillion in investment and loan pledges to boost big-ticket infrastructure projects. Few of these have materialized, they said.
The country’s sea dispute with China is a major campaign issue, according to political analysts.
Fitch Solutions Country Risk and Industry Research said in a report last year presidential frontrunner Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr. “appears one of the few candidates to agree with Duterte’s policy of engagement.”
Local civic groups have accused him of parroting China’s mantra in its sea dispute with the Philippines.
Mr. Marcos’ main rival, Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” G. Robredo, has said the next government should be uncompromising when it comes to the South China Sea dispute.
She said the next president should not deal with China unless it recognizes the ruling by a United-Nations backed tribunal in 2016 that voided its claim to more than 80% of the sea.
Ms. Robredo has also called for a coalition of nations against China’s militarization of the disputed waterway. — KATA