No major troop escalation in Spratlys: AFP
MANILA - The Philippine military said it had sent fewer than 100 Marines to help guard disputed South China Sea islands, while emphasizing it had no plans for a major troop build-up in the area.
Lieutenant General Juancho Sabban, head of the military's western command which has jurisdiction over the area, said the soldiers arrived on Palawan island facing the South China Sea last Friday.
"The troops were less than 100 and they consisted of technical and support staff for the Marine Brigade," Sabban told AFP.
Sabban told AFP on Sunday that two extra battalions, or 800 more Marines had been deployed recently to guard Philippine interests in the Spratly islands chain of the South China Sea, which China and other nations also claim.
But speaking to AFP again on Monday, Sabban said the two Marine battalions had already been stationed in Palawan, and there were no orders to send in additional forces.
Sabban said there had been "an apparent miscommunication" that led to the initial report of extra battalions being deployed.
Straddling vital shipping lanes and believed sitting atop vast reserves of deposits of gas and oil, the Spratlys chain has long been considered a flashpoint for conflict in the region.
Apart from the Philippines and China, the Spratlys are claimed in whole or in part by Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.
Sabban sought to assure other claimants to the Spratlys that the Philippines continued to adhere to a code of conduct governing the area that calls on claimants to maintain peace amid the overlapping claims.