Monday, July 25, 2011
IFUGAO Representative Teodoro Brawner Baguilat went with a group of lawmakers to visit the disputed Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Despite opposition from Chinese officials and the House leadership, Baguilat, with Eastern Samar Representative Ben Evardone and Akbayan Representatives Walden Bello and Arlene Bag-ao, flew to the islands Wednesday via private chartered planes.
“We sent a message to the world that we support the claim of the Philippines on Spratly,” Baguilat said.
The group arrived in Puerto Princesa City to refuel and then proceeded en route to the Kalayaan Islands. The lawmakers were accompanied by Marine Commandant Major General Juancho Sabban, Palawan Governor Abraham Mitra, and members of the media.
The trip was a “peace and sovereignty mission” and an important way of gathering information to build up the country’s defense in the area.
“We call on China and other countries to resolve the dispute peacefully,” he said.
The trip pushed through despite opposition from Chinese Embassy in Manila spokesperson Ethan Sun, who said the visit “goes against the spirit” of the Declaration of Conduct of Parties to the South China Sea.
The Spratlys, a group of islets in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits, is being claimed in whole or in part by China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines
The lawmakers flew on a private chartered plane to Thitu Island, the largest of the Philippine-occupied islands in the Spratlys, and spent about five hours there.
“It is symbolic as it is first civilian flight to land there,” Baguilat said.
About 60 Filipinos live on Thitu, which is just 37 hectares (91 acres) in size and about 450 kilometers (280 miles) northwest of Palawan Island, the nearest major Philippine landmass.
Baguilat said the people’s concerns were also tackled during the trip.
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on July 25, 2011.