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Tatak Duterte! Construction of new runway in Spratlys, to start soon

MANILA, Philippines — New satellite images released by an American think tank showed the progress of the Philippines’ rehabilitation of Pag-asa (Thitu) Island in the West Philippine Sea.

Transportation Secretary Art Tugade confirmed on Thursday night that the new seaport in the hotly contested Pag-Asa Island in Palawan is ready to operate by June 12.

During the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) meeting Thursday night, Tugade told President Rodrigo Duterte that there will be no inauguration ceremony in the ₱450-million seaport.

“Kung maaari i-accept ko na lang sa papel yan, huwag na tayo mag-inaugurate. Umpisahan na lang natin,” said Tugade.

[Translation: If possible, I’ll just accept the papers of the project and not hold an inauguration ceremony anymore. Let’s start its operations immediately.]

In 2018, the Duterte administration decided to build a seaport in Pag-Asa Island which is the largest Philippine island in the disputed Spratly Group of Islands situated in the West Philippine Sea.

The new seaport is expected to improve the island’s accessibility and is expected to further solidify the country’s hold of the island in the disputed waters.

New runway on Pag-asa Island

As the construction of the new port has been completed, the government can now easily bring in construction materials for the further development of the island.

The construction of the beaching ramp, which began in 2018, would allow the Philippines to bring in shallow-draft vessels or those with roll-on/roll-off capability that is essential for landing engineering equipment and other construction materials needed for the upgrade.

Lorenzana said after the completion of the beaching ramp, the next step for the improvement of Pagasa Island would be the repair and upgrading of the Rancudo Airfield, which sustained erosion damage.

"The next phase is for the repair and concreting of the runway and we expect this to be complete in a year’s time from the time the contract is signed. Separate project kasi 'yung runway (The runway is a separate project)," he added.

The 1.2-km. Rancudo Airfield can accommodate medium-sized military aircraft. It was constructed out of packed sand and coral debris during the 1970s.

Lorenzana noted that plans to develop Pagasa Island into a tourism and fishing destination would have to wait pending the completion and improvement of its facilities.

"We’ll see after the facilities are complete if the plan to make it a tourist destination is viable. Fishing has always been done in the waters adjacent to Pagasa. To support this industry, the BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources) constructed a shelter for our fishing ships where they can shelter in inclement weather. This shelter is likewise finished," he said.

Lorenzana earlier said the government is allocating PHP1.6 billion for the improvement of Pagasa Island.

Out of the seven islands and three reefs being controlled by the Philippines in the Spratlys, Pagasa is the largest, measuring 37.2 hectares.
It has a population of around 400 residents, most of them relying on fishing as the main source of their livelihood. Military personnel are also stationed in the island to protect it from outside forces.

The island also has a 1.3-kilometer airstrip and a beaching ramp built by the Department of National Defense that is used to expedite the delivery of construction equipment and materials.

During the past few years, Chinese vessels were spotted roaming around Pag-Asa Island in what could possibly be a move to have control in the area.

For this year alone, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. told a congressional hearing in March that more than 130 Chinese fishing vessels have been seen near the island.

Recent reports also revealed satellite images of former Philippine-occupied islands in the West Philippine Sea that are now converted as military bases by China.

Among them is Zamora Reef, a small island that is adjacent to Pag-Asa Island which the Chinese reclaimed and doubled its landmass to turn into a military outpost.

China has been claiming almost the entire West Philippine Sea, with the country as one of those challenging the claims. Other nations who have disputed China’s assertion in the hotly contested waters are Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Taiwan.

In July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippines in the dispute involving the islands in the West Philippine Sea.

As a way to further assert the country’s ownership of Pag-Asa Island, the government proposed last year to build hotels there.

Tatak Duterte! Construction of new runway in Spratlys, to start soon Tatak Duterte! Construction of new runway in Spratlys, to start soon Reviewed by AsianPolicy.Press on 2:03:00 PM Rating: 5

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