Monday, June 20, 2011

Phl sending more troops to Spratlys

By Jaime Laude, Aurea Calica, Pia Lee-Brago, Delon Porcalla and Evelyn Macairan, Tuesday, June 21, 2011

MANILA, Philippines - A Philippine Navy supply ship has reached Pag-Asa Island in the Kalayaan Island Group in the Spratlys and has unloaded troops and fresh provisions.

The BRP Benguet (LST 507) dropped anchor off Pag-Asa Island the other day but has yet to complete unloading its cargo of food and other supplies due to bad weather, according to a source.

“Our Navy supply ship arrived there the other day but it is still unloading supplies,” the Palawan-based source told The STAR yesterday.

The ship will return to its base in Palawan today if it completes its delivery. The source did not say how many troops were brought in or if some had been pulled out after completing their one-month tour of duty.

Nine civilian residents of Pag-Asa, including an infant, were among the passengers of the ship.

Pag-Asa, also called Isla, is home to 60 civilians. It is the biggest of the seven islets occupied by Filipino troops in the Kalayaan group. A retired administrator of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in Palawan, Eugenio Bito-onon Jr., is mayor of Kalayaan.

The arrival of the Benguet came amid increasing tensions in the West Philippine Sea stoked by reports of intrusions by Chinese vessels and aircraft into areas within Philippine jurisdiction.

Aside from China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei also have claims in the Spratly Islands. The area is believed to contain huge deposits of oil and gas.

The Philippines has deployed its biggest warship, World War II-era BRP Rajah Humabon, “for routine patrol within the country’s territorial waters” near Palawan.

Navy spokesman Lt. Col. Omar Tonsay declined to comment if the Benguet had indeed already reached Pag-Asa.

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