Barrita: No friendly skies over Pag-asa

Eddie O. Barrita

PRESIDENT Rody Duterte won’t fly to Philippine-occupied Pag-asa island in the South China Sea to raise the Philippine flag when the country celebrates Independence Day on June 12.

He said China dissuaded him from doing so. “Because of our friendship with China and because we value your friendship, we will not, I will not go there to raise the Philippine flag,” he said in a speech last week in Saudi Arabia.

He said he may send his son instead to the island, also known as Thitu.

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On Friday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Gen. Eduardo, Año, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff, visited Pag-asa to assert the country’s claim to the disputed area.

Lorenzana was the first defense chief to visit the Philippine-claimed territory in nearly 20 years.

Well, the president’s order was to occupy these islands. Pag-asa, already a town, is occupied by some 300 Filipinos, mostly fishermen.

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But the Chinese military challenged Lorenzana’s party, which was on board two Philippine military planes, while on its way to Pag-asa. Año was aboard a C-295 while Lorenzana was on a C-130.

The pilots of the C-295 said they were told it is entering Chinese territory and should stay away to avoid miscalculation.

A situation such as that would be precarious if President Duterte were on board. Nobody knows where a minor misunderstanding would lead up to.

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Lorenzana and the Philippine military top brass’ visit to Pag-asa came after reports the Chinese Coast Guard fired warning shots to drive Filipino fishermen away from Union Bank, also in the disputed South China Sea.

The Philippine leadership treated China as a friend and was even dissuaded from visiting Pag-asa island. Yet they fired warning shots at Filipino fishermen and they’re still considered friends.

With friends like that, who needs enemies?