Philippines deploy marine brigade to defend disputed islands

Source: Manila Standard

The government on Sunday ordered the 3rd Marine Brigade to join a task force defending the country’s sovereignty on the Spratly Islands, which are also being claimed by China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

Western Command chief Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban said he had issued a directive creating the Joint Task Force on the Kalayaan Island Group, which is within the hotly contested Spratly archipelago.

Sabban said the 3rd Brigade will act as the command and control group of two Marine battalions stationed in Palawan, and will be responsible for the defense of the islands that are believed to be home to vast mineral deposits and a potential flashpoint for conflict in the region.

He said the Marines would not be stationed on the islands but patrol the disputed area. He said the task force would be headed by Col. Andre Costales Jr.

A Marine brigade consists of three battalions. Each battalion has about 300 to 500 men.

Sabban said the forces in Palawan were not meant to sow further tension with China.

“All we have there [on the Kalayaan islands] are monitoring stations that keep track of the current disposition of foreign military [forces] in that area…We are in a defensive posture. We are ensuring the defense of our islands. It is better to defend than retake islands once other claimants occupy them,” he said.

Sabban also confirmed that China had been expanding and improving its military facilities in the areas they are occupying in the disputed islands.

The increased military presence in the volatile region came amid rising tensions with China, which claims territorial jurisdiction over the Kalayaan and Spratlys islands.

China has since been developing Sansha, a newly formed city to oversee the administration of the Kalayaan Group of Islands.

On Sunday, the Foreign Affairs Department reiterated the country’s objections to China’s plans for Sansha.

“Our protest in July covers all measures and developments relating to Sansha City’s establishment as its jurisdiction violates parts of the Philippines’ national territory,” Foreign Affairs Department spokesman Raul Hernandez said in a text message.

Sansha City is composed of the Paracel Islands, KIG, and the Macclesfield Bank.

A report posted on China’s government Web portal on Sunday said authorities had mapped out plans for four infrastructure projects and a housing program on Yongxing Island, located in Paracel, which is being claimed only by China and Vietnam.

Tensions between Manila and Beijing have also reportedly sidetracked a plan to convert the Subic International Airport complex into an entertainment center and casino resort along the lines of Sentosa in Singapore.

Sources in Subic Bay told the Manila Standard that the area was now being eyed as a forward base of operations for US and Philippine forces.

The expansion of the military alliance between the Philippines and the United States was spelled out last week by Mark Lippet, US assistant secretary of defense for Asia and the Pacific, during a forum in Washington DC attended by Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and Philippine Ambassador Jose Cuisia. With Ferdinand Fabella, Florante S. Solmerin and Willie E. Capulong

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