Lorenzana: No militarization on Pag-asa Island
This Feb. 13, 2020 satellite image shows the runway repairs on Pag-asa Island, one of the largest features at Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea.
CSIS/AMTI via Maxar Technologies

Lorenzana: No militarization on Pag-asa Island

Patricia Lourdes Viray (Philstar.com) - June 3, 2020 - 1:21pm

MANILA, Philippines — Despite the presence of hundreds of Chinese ships in the area, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said there is no threat of attack on Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea.

Pag-asa Island, which is under the jurisdiction of the municipality of Kalayaan in Palawan, is one of the biggest features occupied by the Philippines in the Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea.

READ: DFA: Chinese vessels near Pag-asa Island illegal

Confirming that the beaching ramp on the island has been completed, Lorenzana said the Philippines will not militarize the island.

"We will not militarize our island there. We will not bring in military equipment to defend it because I don't think there is any threat of attack of our Pag-asa (Island) and eight other islands," Lorenzana said in an interview with CNN Philippines' "The Source."

The Philippines controls nine islands in the Spratlys, where Filipino troops are stationed.

On the completion of the beaching ramp, Lorenzana said the next project of the government would be to repair the dilapidated runway on the island.

"Next project will be the repair of the dirt runway. We can now bring in materials, we can bring in heavy equipment, we can also bring in construction materials to improve the living quarters of our people there," Lorenzana said.

Just last month, the Philippine Navy's landing craft BRP Ivatan docked on Pag-asa Island, becoming the first navy ship that berthed on the island.

The docking of the navy vessel was part of the navy's rotation and reprovisioning mission at different Kalayaan Island Group detachments in the West Philippine Sea.

While Philippine officials blamed severe sea conditions for the delay of construction projects on Pag-asa Island, Washington-based think tank Asia Maitime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) reported that the continuous presence of Chinese militia ships in the vicinity likely slowed down the repairs.

In a report issued in March, satellite imagery obtained by AMTI showed that an average of 18 Chinese ships are around the island each day.

"These counts indicate the minimum number of Chinese ships present on a given day. Many vessels likely went uncounted because they were under cloud cover or outside the frame of the images," the report read.

China appears to have deployed ships in the area as early as July 2018 in response to the Philippines' repairs on the island.

In November 2018, Lorenzana confirmed that China tried to block the government's plan to repair facilities on the island.

Lorenzana earlier said then Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua approached him upon learning of the planned rehabilitation of Pag-asa Island. 

The Defense chief, however, said "no" and told the Chinese envoy that it was proper for the Philippines to improve every facility on the island as China already developed Subi Reef, which is 12 nautical miles from Pag-asa Island.

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