MANILA, Philippines – For the first time, a Philippine Navy vessel was able to properly dock at Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea, where the government is building a port and beaching ramp.
The Navy’s heavy landing craft BRP Ivatan docked at what is internationally known as Thitu Island early morning of May 13, said Naval Forces West acting public affairs officer Lieutenant Maivi Neri in a media statement.
Before this, no Philippine ship could berth on the island because it lacked a port, Neri added.
The Ivatan was on a troop rotation and reprovisioning mission to the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG), the Philippine-controlled islets among the Spratlys, which includes Pag-asa.
Pag-asa is the largest of the 9 islets that comprise the KIG, and the only one with a civilian population. Around 250 Filipinos live on the island, including a military contingent.
Before, ships were unable to properly berth on Pag-asa because the waters immediately surrounding it were too shallow. Navy vessels had to stay kilometers away from the shore and deploy smaller boats to reach the island.
To help troop rotation and resupply missions to Pag-asa, the government in late 2018 began constructing a port and a beaching ramp, and to repair and pave the airstrip on the island.
Construction is still underway, Neri said.
The Ivatan completed its mission to ferry fresh troops and deliver supplies to Pag-asa on May 13, and went on to visit other KIG military detachments on Rizal Reef, and Lawak and Patag islands. The vessel returned to Puerto Princesa, Palawan, on Sunday, May 17.
The government is ramping up Philippine presence in the West Philippine Sea amid China’s increasingly aggressive moves to dominate the area.
China has 7 reclaimed islands now functioning as its military bases in the West Philippine Sea. Besides these, its coast guard, navy, and militias maintain a widespread presence in the waters.
Chinese fishing boats, suspected to be militias, have consistently been spotted near Pag-asa since late 2018. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana denied a report by a US-based think tank that the Chinese “swarm” hampered construction work on the island.
An international arbitral tribunal of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in July 2016 affirmed the Philippines’ sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea and invalidated China’s sweeping 9-dash line claim over it.
China rejects the ruling, and has continued to dominate the strategic and resource-rich waterway through sheer naval presence, which smaller claimant states like the Philippines are struggling to match. – Rappler.com
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