The South China Sea, or the West Philippine Sea for Filipinos since the start of this decade, has long been the focal point of a complex web of territorial disputes between several nations of Southeast Asia, and the Asian power of China. While the Philippine military has minimal force projection to cover its claims in the area, it does maintain a presence like on Pag-asa Island. This component of the Spratly chain has a runway that needs repairs, dependent of materials delivered by boat. For that, the Department of National Defense (DND) has been building a vessel beaching ramp on the island, expected to be completed before the year’s end.
CNN Philippines reports that the Pag-asa Island beaching ramp, originally scheduled to be completed last year, is now on set to be finished before the year 2019 comes to an end. This was assured by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to reporters at the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of the Philippines (FCAP) on its 45th anniversary. “The repair of the beaching ramp has been intermittent because of bad weather and the contractor cannot bring in the construction materials,” Lorenzana explained. “But it is now 60 percent finished and we expect the beaching ramp to be finished by the end of this year.”
Pag-asa Island, also called Thitu (Vietnamese), Zhongye (Chinese) and Ilalo (Panganinan dialect) is the second-largest of all the Spratly Islands on the West Philippine Sea. China, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines had claims here as part of the whole for the Spratlys, with Taiwanese troops actually stationed there, until being evacuated due to a strong typhoon in 1971.
The Philippines exploited this by establishing an outpost on July 29 of that year, renaming Zhongye into Pag-asa. By 1978 a municipality (Kalayaan) was founded on the island, part of Palawan province. Originally mainly a naval station and airstrip for military use, civilian settlement began in 2002.
DND Secretary Lorenzana hopes that once complete, the Pag-asa beaching ramp will ease the landing of small vessels on the island, particularly cargo ships carrying material to rehabilitate the airstrip of Rancudo Airfield, which serves military and commercial air traffic. Lorenzana sees this as one step towards the improvement of living conditions for the soldiers stationed in Pag-asa to defend this territorial claim.
It has been noted by the Kalayaan garrison that Pag-asa is frequently scouted by multiple Chinese vessels, military and otherwise. On the political front, the Chinese Ambassador has exerted pressure on the government to discontinue airstrip repairs.
Image courtesy of Philippine Star