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Palace: Visit of Lorenzana to Pag-asa lawful

There is nothing unlawful with the recent visit of the country’s defense and military officials to Pag-asa Island, a Philippine-owned territory, Malacañang said yesterday.

A day after China protested the controversial visit to the disputed island, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella argued that concerned government officials merely sought to ensure the safety and well being of Filipinos living in Pag-asa Island.

“The visit of the Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to Pag-asa Island is part of the efforts to improve the safety, welfare, livelihood, of Filipinos residing and living in the municipality of Kalayaan which is part of the province of Palawan,” Abella said.

“The Philippines has long been undertaking customary and routine maritime patrol and overflight in the West Philippine Sea which are lawful activities under international law. Such flights will likewise enable us to reach our municipality,” he added.

Last Friday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año visited Pag-asa Island with several journalists to inspect the island’s facilities.

But Chinese forces tried to drive away the two planes carrying the Philippine team, claiming they were flying near an area of Chinese installations. The local aircraft still continued with the flight despite the warning.

In the visit to Pag-asa island, the defense and military chiefs met Filipino troops and participated in a flag-raising ceremony.

At least R1.6 billion has been allocated for the construction of facilities, including a fish port, improved shelter for soldiers, and marine research and tourist center, on the island.

China, however, expressed dismay over the latest Philippine visit to Pag-asa island. Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China was “gravely concerned about and dissatisfied” by the island visit, adding they have filed “representations with the Philippine side.” (Genalyn D. Kabiling)