Marines in Palawan celebrated the force’s “birthday” this year in a different light, taking to heart emerging challenges in defending territories in the contested Spratly Islands.

Troops volunteered for “Spratly assignments,” Lt. Col. Neil Estrella, spokesman of the Western Command, said in a phone interview.

“Ngayon mas high morale ang tropa dahil we know we are defending our territory kahit mahirap ang assignment sa Spratlys,” Estrella, himself a member of the Marines, said.

The Marines’ 62nd birthday – founding anniversary to those not in the know – was held on Wednesday.

It came just a little over a month after the 3rd Marine Brigade returned to Palawan on Sept. 28 following a long stint of “internal security” operations in Sulu.

The brigade, an administrative unit comprising about 200 personnel, had supervised troops in battles against Abu Sayyaf members and other bandits in the southern province.

Its return to the west will see the brigade address needs of the two battalions already in Palawan for territorial defense, Estrella said in a previous interview.

The Department of National Defense has been vocal about beefing up defense for the Spratly Islands and the West Philippine Sea following Chinese military “incursions” last year.

The island group, said to be lying on top of huge oil and gas deposits, is being claimed in whole or in part by the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan.

On Wednesday, Marines in Palawan, which lies more than 100 nautical miles from Spratlys, renewed their oath and again sang their hymn of fighting – whoever the foe may be.

Western Command chief Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban, once assigned to the island chain in his early days as a Marine officer, was among those who renewed their vow.

“They pronounced to carry that same legacy as they recommitted themselves to the tasks at hand – to ensure the protection and defense of our nation’s peace, democracy, and territorial integrity against all enemies – foreign and domestic,” Estrella said. (John Roson)

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