Malacañang on Saturday welcomed the start of repairs of the runway on Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
“Repair of port facilities in Pag-asa is consistent with our national sovereignty and jurisdiction,” Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement sent to media.
Roque made this remark after think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) announced on its website that the Philippines started long-delayed repairs to its crumbling runway at Pag-asa Island.
According to the AMTI, “Satellite imagery from May 17 shows two barges anchored just off the western edge of the Thitu (Pag-asa) Island runway, which collapsed into the sea years ago.”
“It appears that a grab dredger, consisting of a crane with a clamshell bucket, is installed on the smaller barge to the west, while the other carries a backhoe. Loose sediment from dredging can be seen in the water around the two barges and freshly-deposited sand is visible along the northern edge of the runway,” it added.
The AMTI noted that this method of dredging is similar to that used by Vietnam at many of its outposts in recent years, noting that it affects surrounding reefs at a smaller scale .
According to the AMTI, Philippine defense officials in April 2017 announced that they would be upgrading facilities at the country’s occupied islands and reefs, but little work was apparent until now.
Roque earlier said that Duterte is expected to visit Pag-asa Island within his term to show the country’s claim over the Kalayaan Group of Islands.
“I think, time will really come that the President will visit the Pag-asa Island,” Roque said in an earlier video interview.
Roque said a visit of the President to the Pag-asa Island would serve as a statement of sovereignty.
“If the President will not do it now, I think, before his term will be finished, he will go there, not only to show to the world our entitlement in Kalayaan but to visit our soldiers and our countrymen living there,” he said.
Pag-asa Island is part of the Kalayaan Group of Islands, which is also being claimed by China.
In July 2016, the United Nations-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruled in favor of the Philippines’ arbitration case saying that China’s nine-dash line map has no legal basis.
Duterte temporarily shelved the PCA’s decision to give way to friendly and peaceful dialogues with China.
He, however, vowed not give up any of the county’s territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea amid China’s alleged militarization of the disputed area. PNA