THE Department of National Defense (DND) announced that the repair and improvements of facilities in the disputed Pag-asa Island, also known as Thitu, will continue and are expected to be finished within the first few months of 2019, amid reports of increased Chinese presence in the area.
In a statement on Friday, DND Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana said “The presence of militia on the Chinese man-made structures is no surprise to us as they have been there since 2012.”
He added, “Improving the safety, welfare, livelihood, and personal security of Filipinos in the Municipality of Kalayaan, a distinct and separate town under the province of Palawan, is the government’s Constitutional mandate.”
On Thursday, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) reported that the Chinese government sent a paramilitary force to the area in December last year in response to the ongoing construction in Pag-asa. Mr. Lorenzana also said last year that Chinese government has made efforts in the past to stop the rehabilitation of the island.
Barangay Pag-Asa is the largest island of the municipality of Kalayaan. The Kalayaan municipality is part of the Spratlys group of islands located in the disputed West Philippine Sea.
Mr. Lorenzana said that the plans of the local government to improve facilities on the island are legal and within the Philippines’ sovereign rights. The Philippines, which won an arbitral ruling in an international court on the disputed waters, claims Pag-asa as part of the West Philippine Sea.
“Having undergone careful planning and consideration, with full respect to international law and rules-based order governing civilized states, implementing these improvements is a legitimate undertaking, and well within our rights as a sovereign nation,” Mr. Lorenzana stressed.
Facilities in Pag-asa that are being worked on according to Mr. Lorenzana are the “air strip (Rancudo Airfield), better barracks for soldiers, desalination facilities, sewage disposal system, conventional and renewable power generators, lighthouses, shelters and storage facilities for fishermen” which he added will be completed by the first quarter of the year. — Gillian M. Cortez