The Armed Forces plans to deploy additional Marine troops and equipment to Palawan amid Chinese military buildup in the disputed Spratly Islands.

Lt.Col. Neil Estrella, spokesman of the Armed Forces Western Command, said plans are afoot to set up a Marine brigade headquarters that will support the two battalions already in the province.

“The Marines now is realigning its troops, particularly sa requirement natin doon sa territorial defense,” he said.

The brigade headquarters, which will be set up at a still undiclosed place, is expected to enhance the two battalions’ capability in drawing out more troops from other areas, artillery, air support, tanks, and other assets.

“‘Yung dalawang Marine battalion natin kasi kinakailangan may suporta, ang suporta niya kailangan manggaling sa isang brigade. Ang isang brigade mayroong armor, mayroong artillery, may mga support unit,” Estrella said.

The plan comes amid China’s building up of military installations and deployment of maritime surveillance vessels to the disputed Spratly Islands.

The island group, located about 200 nautical miles west of Palawan and said to be rich in mineral and oil, is being claimed in whole or in part by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei.

US troops to come in too?

Earlier, a foreign news wire agency quoted a senior Philippine Marine official as saying that there are also plans to expand an airstrip in Palawan to accommodate big US military planes, and set up an “advance command post” manned by both Philippine and US Marine troops.

Estrella denied hearing anything on the supposed plan, saying what was clear was it was the local Marines who will be beefing up forces.

The regional military spokesperson said he also learned of a plan to develop the airport in Puerto Princesa City, for “civilian use.”

“Talaga namang ide-develop ‘yung airport natin doon. Ikaw ba naman, ‘yung airport 20 to 22 flights a day lang eh ang sikip na. Pagagandahin talaga ‘yung airport pero hindi para sa military,” he said. (John Roson)

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