MANILA — A Philippine governor said Monday that he has sent settlers and officials to an island guarded by Philippine troops in the South China Sea's disputed Spratlys archipelago to boost his country's territorial claim to the area.
Gov. Joel Reyes of Palawan said about 90 Filipinos left the province Sunday aboard a navy ship for Pag-asa island to try to build a community there.
His move could provoke protests from China and other countries claiming some or of the Spratlys, a potentially oil-rich group of islands, reefs and islets many fear could be a source of major conflict.
Reyes said he was aware of possible protests but would let defense and foreign affairs officials deal with that. His constituents have the right to start a life and exploit the resources there, he said.
TV showed settlers boarding a navy ship for the 2 1/2-day sea voyage carrying bamboo cages of chickens and pigs. One man struggled to pull a goat aboard.
Pag-asa has been occupied for years by Philippine troops and their dependents. The island is so remote that soldiers posted there on three-month shifts are given a "loneliness allowance."
Philippine troops occupy eight islets in the Spratlys, which are also claimed by Brunei, China, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam Some claimants are discussing a code of conduct to prevent violence from erupting in the region.