(Photos courtesy of GMA)
Top defense officials in the country have inaugurated on Tuesday a cemented pier that would let its ships dock on Pag-Asa (Thitu) Island, whose waters were swarmed by over a hundred Chinese boats last year.
The pier, also known as a “beaching ramp,” is the first major upgrade of the Philippines in the 9 features it occupies in the West Philippine Sea, parts of which are also claimed by Beijing.
The West Philippine Sea is the country’s exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea. Pag-asa Island hosts Kalayaan town, a Palawan municipality that is home to a military outpost and a civilian community. It has a school, military barracks, and a runway, among other infrastructure.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Felimon Santos Jr., Navy Flag Officer-in-Command Vice Admiral Giovanni Bacordo, Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Allen Paredes, Army Chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay, and newly installed AFP Western Command chief Lt. Gen. Erickson Gloria inaugurated the structure.
Speaking to reporters, Lorenzana expressed confidence that the “historic” completion of the beaching ramp would pave the way for the vitalization of the community in the island and the strengthening of Filipino presence in the area.
“Very significant kasi with the beaching ramp, we can now bring in more materials, equipment to continuously repair, to repair and then later on to maintain our airstrip,” Lorenzana said.
“Kasi before this beaching ramp, when you bring in equipment here or anything, you have to anchor about one or 500 meters away and transfer the goods in a small boat to be brought here so it’s very tedious and very expensive,” he added.
According to the Department of National Defense, the construction of the beaching ramp in Pag-asa, with a total budget of P267.18 million, is one of the several projects aimed at improving the living conditions of the people in the Municipality of Kalayaan.
The DND said a total of P1.3 billion worth of projects are also in the pipeline, including the repair and concreting of the runway that has been damaged by erosion.
“Kailangan pagandahin ito dahil ‘yung ating kapitbahay eh tuloy-tuloy ‘yung pag-improve ng kanilang island,” Lorenzana said.
Earlier, Lorenzana said the island would not be militarized as he sees no threat from other forces in the area.
He reiterated that he is aware of the presence of Chinese militias in the island. He said they can stay there but he noted that they should not harass Filipino fishermen.
“Basta huwag nilang molestiyahin ang ating fishermen, they can stay there. Hindi naman natin sila puwedeng mapaalis eh,” Lorenzana said.
The Phase 2 of the AFP Basing Support System in the island will include the repair of the runway, the DND said.
The third phase will be for the concreting of the runway and parking apron of PAF while the fourth phase will be the construction of other PAF facilities./Stacy Ang