PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte instructed Thursday the military to claim islands located in the disputed South China Sea, which are within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.
After his talk to the soldiers of the Western Command at Camp Ricarte in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, Duterte ordered the military to start construction and raise the Philippine flag on the islands owned by the Philippines in the contested waters.
“We tried to be friends with everybody but we have to maintain our jurisdiction now, at least the areas under our control. And I have ordered the armed forces to occupy all so many islands, I think nine or 10, build structures there and raise the Philippine flag,” the President said.
“It seems that there’s an island dispute, and what’s ours now should be claimed by us and [we should] make a strong point there that it’s ours,” he added.
Duterte made the instruction amid his diplomatic approach to resolve sea row with China, which many criticized as too soft considering China's aggressive behavior as a claimant to the strategic waterway.
Since the start of his administration, the President has maintained his stance to remain friendly with China and has resisted from protesting its actions in the South China Sea.
Duterte said he is also planning to personally go to Pagasa Island to raise the Philippine flag there.
He said he also sought to rename of Benham Rise to "Philippine Ridge," which has reportedly been surveyed by China recently.
Malacañang earlier said changing the name of Benham Rise intends to “emphasize the Philippine sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the area.” (SunStar Philippines)