PH puts on hold repair of airstrip in West PH Sea
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin says the President had ordered them 'not to disturb the status quo' to allow the Philippines to keep its 'moral high ground' while the case is pending in the arbitral tribunal
FREEZE: The Philippines halts plans to repair the damaged Rancudo Air Field on Pag-asa Island in the Spratlys

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine President Benigno Aquino III stopped plans to repair the Rancudo Airstip in Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told senators on Friday, October 3.

“We do have funds for the improvement of, for example, the Pag-asa airport, but this is being held in abeyance because of the case that we have filed. It might affect the case that we have filed [with the arbitral tribunal],” Gazmin said during the committee on appropriations hearing on the budget of the defense department. 

Gazmin said the President ordered the department to “not disturb the status quo” while the case is pending to allow the country to keep its “moral high ground” on the matter. The Philippines continues to protest China’s reclamation and construction activities in disputed maritime territories for what appears to be a military base in the Mabini Reef and lighthouses in other areas.

The defense department earlier allocated P480 million to upgrade facilities of the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Air Force there. 

The country lodged an international arbitration case against China over its claims in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). These include maritime territories within the country’s 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone under the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea. (READ: Aquino: This battle is not just about China)

Pag-asa, or Tithu, is the biggest island that the country occupies in the West Philippine Sea. It is also the Philippines’ seat of power in the area. The island that is populated by several hundred Filipinos also has a town hall, a military post, a health center, and a school. The island is also being claimed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam. 

The Philippine Air Force had been looking forward to getting the airstrip repaired to allow safer landing for its C130 cargo plane. Portions of the 1.3-kilometer runway are eroded. Aircrafts can land but repairs are needed for security purposes. (READ: Hitches in repair of PH air field in Spratlys– Carmela Fonbuena/