Philippines’ military chief visits remote islands near disputed Spratlys

Philippines' military chief visits remote islands near disputed Spratlys

Some local government officials have expressed reservations over the expanded EDCA, but Billy Adriano, a resident of Balabac, said he welcomed it because “that will help in the security of the country”.

Manila has started building a 3km runway at the air base, which will also host humanitarian assistance and disaster relief facilities and barracks that Americans could use under the EDCA.

“This is surrounded by islands, and this is where foreign vessels from international waters will enter and pass through our SLOCs (sea lines of communications),” Centino said of the air base’s location.

“If we have to defend (our territory), we have to be able to detect and identify intrusions,” Centino said, recalling an incident in which a foreign vessel slipped into the Sulu Sea near Palawan.

He did not say what vessel, but the Philippines in March 2022 said it detected a Chinese navy reconnaissance ship off the Cuyo Group of Islands within the Sulu Sea, where it entered and lingered without permission, ignoring demands to leave.

China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea with a “nine-dash line” on maps that stretches more than 1,500km off its mainland and cuts into the exclusive economic zones of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. An international arbitral ruling in 2016 dismissed that line as having no legal basis.

“It is important we are able to monitor to detect who is coming in and out … if hostile or friendly forces,” Centino said.