BEIJING expressed anger Monday after a group of young Filipinos camped out on Pagasa, an island in the South China Sea that both China and the Philippines claim as their own.
The voyage of the group, which calls itself “Kalayaan Atin Ito,” was aimed at protesting China’s intrusion in territories that are within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Lu Kang, said China was “strongly dissatisfied” by what the Filipinos have done, reiterating that China has indisputable sovereignty over the Spratly Islands.
“We once again urge the Philippines to withdraw all its personnel and facilities from the islands that it is illegally occupying, refrain from actions that are detrimental to regional peace and stability and not conducive to Sino-Philippines relations,” Lu said.
But a spokesman for the Armed Forces dismissed the Chinese reaction.
“They are dreaming. The island is ours,” said Col. Restituto Padilla.
Padilla added that the islands that China had occupied fall within the Philippines’ territorial jurisdiction.
The protesters, composed of 47 young men and women, led by ex-marine captain Nick Faeldon, held bonfire and other activities on Pagasa Island in a symbolic defiance of China’s expansionism in the South China Sea, including its construction of seven artificial islands in the disputed waters.
The group is expected to sail back to Puerto Princesa, Palawan for their departure to Manila on Dec. 30.
Padilla said personnel from the Western Command visited the youth, giving them provisions.
“We salute them and hailed what they have manifested as regard the concern over our territory in the West Philippine Sea,” Padilla said, referring to areas of the South China Sea that the Philippines claims.
“We also praised them for being nationalistic and patriotic and for forming a group to be able to sail to Pagasa Island.”
Earlier, the military had opposed the Kalayaan Atin Ito mission, saying it could complicate security concerns in the area.
On their journey back to Manila, Padilla said the Western Command would provide escort personnel to the youth group and their movement would also be monitored to ensure their safety.
The coordinator of the group, Joy Ban-eg, said the journey to Pagasa Island would not be the last but the first in a series of similar voyages that would be launched “in the near future.”