The Department of Defense (DND) on Tuesday visited Pag-asa Island in Palawan along with some of the country’s top security officials for the inauguration of a beaching ramp that would allow Philippine sea assets to dock in the area.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana led the group composed of Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Felimon Santos Jr., Navy Flag Officer-in-Command Vice Admiral Giovanni Bacordo, Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Allen Paredes, Army Chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay and newly installed AFP Western Command chief Lt. Gen. Erickson Gloria.
It also marked the first time the top brasses of the Defense department and military visited Pag-asa.
The completion of the cemented pier, also known as the “AFP Basing Support System at Pag-asa Island Project”, wraps up Phase One of the government’s Master Development Plan for the island which is part of Kalayaan Island Group (KIG).
It will be utilized for both military and civilian use.
“We can now proceed with the other projects planned for Pag-asa Island. This is a necessary first step which will facilitate the transportation of essential construction equipment to the island,” Lorenzana said.
With a budget of P267.18-million, the beaching ramp is one of several projects intended to help improve living conditions of the people in the Municipality of Kalayaan.
Several projects worth P1.3-billion are in the pipeline, including the repair and concreting of a runway strip that has been damaged by erosion.
A sheltered port for fishing vessels, funded by the Department of Transportation (DoTR) and ran by the provincial government of Palawan, was also earlier built on the island, wherein fishermen can take shelter during inclement weather.
Chinese vessels spotted
During Lorenzana and the military officials’ visit, several Chinese ships and smaller boats, including a Coast Guard vessel, were seen circling waters off the island.
The vessels could be seen some nautical miles away from the Philippine Navy’s BRP Ivatan, the first Philippine military vessel to dock on the newly constructed pier.
Lorenzana, however, shrugged off the presence of the Chinese ships and said there is no cause for concern as long as Filipino fishermen and others residing on the island are not harassed or intimidated.
“This is Kalayaan Island Group. This is outside our EEZ (exclusive economic zone). But we have claims here. We have 9 islands here. This (Pag-asa Island) is the biggest. And all of those islands are occupied by our people. So, we have presence here,” asserted Lorenzana.
“Maybe it’s because they’re seeing high-ranking officials are now coming here. We are solidifying our claim in the area. They pose as fishermen, but we know that they are militias. As long as they don’t molest or hurt our fishermen, they can stay there,” he added.