The Department of National Defense (DND) on Friday (17 March) announced it will station ships and strengthen its military facilities on disputed islands and shoals in the West Philippine Sea internationally known as South China’s.
DND secretary Delfin Lorenzana disclosed the development plans after visiting a military base near Spratly Islands. “We will build a runway and a port, a pier, for our ships on Thitu,” Lorenzana said. “We are a bit blind in that area.”
Thitu is the second largest of the naturally occurring Spratly archipelago and the largest of the Philippine-administered Spratlys. It is close to Subi Reef, which is one of the seven artificial islands in the Spratlys. About 110 fishing community are thought to be living on Thitu, where China has placed its troops but not civilians.
China has built military-grade runways there that have the capability to deploy surface-to-air missiles. Besides, it has built civilian facilities like a lighthouse, which China said has played a positive role in guaranteeing navigation safety and is used in humanitarian rescue efforts.
Lorenzana added that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had approved to upgrade facilities not only on Thitu but on the eight other features in the South China Sea it occupies.