The Department of National Defense (DND) spearheaded the inauguration of a beaching ramp, or harbor, on Pag-asa (Thitu) island just three days before the celebration of the country’s 122nd Independence Day. The beaching ramp or cemented pier is the first major development of the Philippines in the 9 features the country occupies in the West Philippine Sea which is the country’s exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
Kalayaan town is a Palawan municipality that occupies Pag-asa island. The town hosts a military outpost and a civilian community as well as 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 were the people who led the inauguration, the first time they visited the island altogether. The upgrade was submitted by contractor Luzviminda Engineering Construction to officials which the defense secretary headed. According to Lorenzana, the upgrade itself would boost the island’s development.
Beaching ramp to pave way for vitalization of community
Lorenzana noted of his confidence towards the “historic” completion of the pier to the reporters; telling them that it would accelerate the vitalization of the island community and would solidify the Filipino presence in the location.
According to him, the beaching ramp is important because the ramp means they will be able to bring in more materials and equipment for repair; and later on, the maintenance of the airstrip. In addition to that, he also said that more materials could be brought in to the ramp.
This is very significant because with the beaching ramp, we can now bring in more materials and equipment to repair and later on to maintain our airstrip.”
Moreover, he said that the construction of the beaching ramp was allocated with a total budget of P267.18 million. The DND claimed that a total worth of 1.3 billion projects is also in the works; this includes the repair and concreting of the runway that is due to erosion as part of the phase 2 of the AFP Basing Support System.
The third phase will consist of the concreting of the runway and parking apron of PAF whereas the fourth phase will be for the construction of other PAF facilities.
The contractor, Luzviminda, was instructed to proceed with the project in 2017 which was reportedly expected to have been completed a year later. However, the delay may also have affected the development of the island. The construction of the pier was a huge accomplishment to the government. He claimed that it is not only a development but also a security for the island “in every corner of the archipelago.”
Lorenzana explained that the administration must push through with the development as other neighboring islands are ceaseless with theirs.
We need to continue with our island development when other nearby islands are pushing through with the development of their own.”
China militia around the island signifying welcome China?
Several Chinese vessels were present around the island including a white Coast Guard vessel, 2 blue and white barges like the ones surrounding the Scarborough shoal during the blessing and ribbon cutting ceremony. These can be seen far behind the BRP Ivatan, the first Philippine navy vessel to dock the pier.
Despite the presence of China militias around the island, Lorenzana made sure to tell the reporters that the island would not be militarized and that other forces are of no threat. They are permitted to stay but must not harass Filipino fishermen, he added.
As long as the Chinese militias do not harass our Filipino fishermen, they can stay. We can do nothing about their presence.”
Kalayaan Mayor Roberto del Mundo said that the pier could also mean the increase of people visiting the island as well as the island’s commercial fishing capability. However, he said that because of his discomfort towards the presence of the Chinese vessels especially that the militias and coast guard follow Philippine boats if they are to be within a close radius.
Welcome to China Notifications
The ABS-CBN news team received messages saying “Welcome to China!” upon arrival. It is no secret that the Philippines and China have witnessed an improvement between their relationship during President Rodrigo Duterte’s regime that the president himself disregarded a United Nations-backed tribunal’s 2016 ruling that invalidated Beijing’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea.
An estimation of 140 Chinese ships roaming around Pag-asa island last year departed after a diplomatic protest regarding their presence took place in Manila.
What do you think of the Welcome to China notifications? Is it a mere token of friendship between the president and his allyship towards China or something else?