MANILA -- The growing presence of Chinese maritime militia vessels around Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) makes it imperative for the government to push through with its plans to construct a seaport in the remote Philippine territory, a ranking lawmaker at the House of Representatives said Wednesday.
In a statement, House Senior Deputy Minority Leader and Buhay Partylist Rep. Lito Atienza noted that in the 2017 General Appropriations Act, Congress has allotted PHP450 million in capital outlay to the Department of Transportation (DOTr) for the Barangay Pag-asa Port Project.
“Where's the PHP 450-million seaport? We hope the DOTr is still pushing through with the project, which has become absolutely imperative for us to encourage more Filipinos to live on the remote island,” Atienza said, noting the need for the Philippines to bolster its claims in the WPS.
Located 518 km. northwest of Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, Pag-asa belongs to the Kalayaan Island Group at the western section of the Spratly archipelago and has been occupied by the Philippines since 1970.
At present, Pag-asa has less than 400 residents, mostly fishermen, and their families.
Meanwhile, Atienza pointed out that the DOTr could take advantage of an ongoing project of the Department of National Defense (DND) in Pag-asa to build the planned seaport.
“Now would be an excellent time for the DOTr to carry out the project, considering that the military is set to complete the construction of a beaching ramp on the island,” Atienza said.
The beaching ramp being built by the DND is intended to expedite the delivery of construction equipment and materials after President Rodrigo Duterte in April 2017 ordered the reinforcement of Pag-asa.
The DND is initially focusing its efforts on paving the island’s crumbling 1.3-kilometer airstrip.
Amid the ongoing construction, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has monitored an extraordinary surge of vessels from a Chinese fishing fleet around Pag-asa.
For the first quarter of 2019 alone, more than 600 Chinese fishing vessels have been recorded surrounding the sandbars of the Philippine-occupied island.
According to Washington-based think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, these boats are intended to intimidate other claimants and to stop the development work currently underway on Pag-asa Island.
The entire Spratly archipelago is being claimed by China, but a tribunal of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in July 2016 that Philippine territories in the West Philippine Sea could not be overlapped by any possible entitlement of China. (PNA)