By Yas Ocampo
The Philippines will build a P450-million port in the Pag-asa island, an island in the disputed Spratly islands in the West Philippine Sea, amid better ties with Asian neighbors with claims to the territories, especially China.
In a statement, Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel said the budget for port construction at Barangay Pag-asa, the lone barangay in the Palawan town of Kalayaan has been earmarked from the 2017 General Appropriations Act under the Department of Transportation’s aggregate P3.98-billion spending program for the maritime sector.
The amount will be under the capital outlay budget under the DOTr’s funding for its Central Office.
The new port would vastly improve accessibility to the area and bolster the country’s claims in the West Philippine Sea, according to a DOTr report submitted to Congress.
“We support the port development project, which will surely help encourage human settlement in the remote Philippine island that now has less than 400 residents, mostly fishermen,” said Pimentel, also a member of the House committee on national defense and security.
Hopes for the island
Pimentel also called on the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to consider putting up a research station in Pag-asa.
He also called on the Department of Energy to find ways to provide a renewable and stable source of electricity on the island that presently relies on a 75KVa generator set.
The 37.2-hectare island has an unpaved 1.3-kilometer airstrip, a one-classroom primary school and a five-bed clinic.
Pag-Aasa used to be a purely Philippine military installation until civilian setllement was allowed. It still hosts a small military detachment led by a lieutenant and the Philippine Navy’s Naval Station Emilio Liwanag.
Located 518 kilometers northwest of Puerto Princesa City, Pag-asa—a low-lying landmass surrounded by shallow coral ranges—belongs to the Kalayaan Island Group at the western section of the Spratly archipelago.
The island has been occupied by the Philippines since 1970. In a 1978 decree, former President Ferdinand Marcos established the municipality of Kalayaan, the country’s smallest municipality, over the Kalayaan Island Group and placed it under the Province of Palawan.
Pag-asa, internationally named Thitu Island, is the Spratlys’ second largest naturally occurring island. It is called Zhongye Dao by the Chinese and Dao Thi Tu by the Vietnamese.
The entire Spratlys is claimed by China, which has conducted massive reclamation of reefs and shoals into artificial islands.
But a tribunal in the Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration in July ruled any possible entitlement of China could not overlap Philippine territories.
In October, President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to China resulted in local fishermen regaining access around their traditional fishing grounds in the Scarborough or Panatag Shoal, another disputed territory hundreds of kilometers up north and outside Spratlys.
Tags: 2017 General Appropriations Act, China, Department of Transportation, Kalayaan Island Group, Largest PH island in Spratlys to get P450-M port, Manila Bulletin, Pag-asa Island, Palawan, Spratly Islands, West Philippine Sea