by Francis Wakefield
Pagasa Island, Palawan – Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana yesterday said the government has allocated some P1.6 billion to improve facilities on Pagasa (Thitu) Island, part of the Kalayaan Group of Islands west of southern Palawan.
Secretary Lorenzana said it is important to construct more facilities for the welfare of soldiers and residents living in the area.
This is the second visit of Lorenzana in the island. The first was when he was still a Command General Staff Course (CGSC) student in 1992.
Lorenzana said that P1.2 billion will be used to repair the 1.3 kilometer runway of Rancudo Airfield on the island while the P400 million will go to the construction of the port. He said Naval Construction Battalion (Seabees) will be in charge of the construction.
“We will repair the runway. We will cement it, fix the edges and add a portion (of the road) so that the military aircraft like the C-130 cargo plane will not have a hard time landing because the runway is short right now,” Lorenzana said.
“Hopefully by July we will have finished the beaching so that the LSTs (Landing Ship Tanks) can dock and unload construction materials like sand, gravel etc. that will be used to cement the runway,” Lorenzana said.
With Lorenzana on the visit to Pagasa were Palawan Gov. Jose Pepito Chavez Alvarez, Armed Forces of the Philippines ( AFP) chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Año, Army chief Glorioso Miranda, Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Edgard Fallorina, AFP Western Command chief Lt. Gen. Raul del Rosario, AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, AFP Public Affairs Office chief Marine Col. Edgard Arevalo, and military officials.
Secretary Lorenzana and his group arrived at the island in a C-130 military cargo plane while General Año and other military officials rode a C-295 airbus plane.
Other officials from the government of Palawan, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), the National Mapping Research Agency (Namria) also joined in the trip.
Aside from the runway, Lorenzana said the BFAR will also put a fishport so that those caught by bad weather will have shelter. Facilities for electricity infrastructures, sewerage, desalination, etc., are also planned.
“If we finish the construction of the runway, a lot more people can visit the island, which can be also used as a tourist attraction,” Lorenzana said.
“As you can see the beaches here are beautiful, the sand is very white. We will develop this into a tourism area and marine research facility,” Lorenzana said.
Once a strictly military installation, Pagasa Island was opened to civilian settlement in 2002. Pagasa now has a small airstrip, a five-bed lying-in clinic, and a small elementary school built for soldiers and residents.
Lorenzana said the improvement of Pagasa Island comes as an urgent need following China’s modernization of Zamora (Subi) Reef which is just 18 kilometers away from Pagasa.
“I had earlier saw Subi Reef. They were able to develop the area. Vietnam was also able to develop Parola and we are lagging behind. We are the last claimants here who are doing something for the islands that we have been occupying since the 70s,” he said.
Pagasa is at the center of a territorial dispute between the Philippines and China. It is in the West Philippine Sea, declared by President Benigno S. Aquino III in 2012, covering the 300-mile Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines. It is, however, also claimed by China with its nine-dash line looping around about 80 percent of the South China Sea.
Lorenzana said it is normal protocol for China to challenge planes flying over the island. “That’s automatic…
We also reply that we are flying over Philippine territory. We answer back but there are no untoward incidents,” he said.
Similarly claimed by both countries is Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal west of Zambales.