Solons visit disputed island, China protest

THITU ISLAND – FIVE congressmen visited this island in the disputed Spratlys yesterday, infuriating China which claimed the trip would destabilize the region and damage ties.

The five lawmakers, joined by a small party of soldiers, local officials and journalists, arrived on Thitu island aboard two private planes and raised two Philippine flags above a government building.

Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello said the delegation came to promote a peaceful solution to the territorial dispute, but stressed that Filipinos who know the island as “Pag-asa” are ready to defend “Philippine” territory.

“We come in peace, we support a diplomatic solution. But let there be no doubt in anybody’s mind, in any foreign powers’ mind, that if they dare to eject us from Pag-asa… Filipinos will not take that sitting down,” he said.

“Filipinos are born to resist aggression. Filipinos are willing to die for their soil.”

The visit comes as tensions rise over the Spratlys chain which is wholly or partially claimed by China and the Philippines as well as Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

Thitu is the largest of the Philippine-occupied islands in the Spratlys, an archipelago believed to sit on vast natural resources and which also straddles shipping lanes vital to world trade.

About 60 Filipinos live on Thitu, which is just 37 hectares in size and lies about 450 kilometers northwest of Palawan.

Bello brushed aside China’s criticism.

“Maybe they are not used to democratic processes,” he told around 80 people gathered for the flag-raising ceremony.

Malacañang also defended the lawmakers’ visit, saying Filipinos can visit any Philippine territory.

“It’s already a done deal. They did not have to secure the executive’s consent. They went there on their own accord,” Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.        AFP

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