By Manny Mogato, News5 editor at large
(June 3, 2020) – The Philippines will immediately begin repair and upgrade of an unpaved runway on one of nine disputed features in the South China Sea, the defense secretary said on Wednesday.
Retired general Delfin Lorenzana said the navy and air force can now transport heavy equipment, construction materials and other supplies to improve the short runway on Pagasa island, known internationally as Thitu island, one of the largest features in the Spratly group of islands in the South China Sea.
He said it is now possible to repair and build other military structures on Pagasa after the beaching ramp was finished under the supervision of Navy’s Seabees or construction brigade.
The construction of the beaching ramp, which began in late 2017, was delayed by the weather because it was difficult to transport materials during monsoon season due to rough seas and fierce winds.
“It means that we can now bring in more supplies, especially in the repair of the runway because the next project will be the repair of the runway, the dirt runway (in Pagasa Island),” said Lorenzana.
“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 and also help the people there.”
Apart from a small military detachment on Pagasa, there is also a community of 200 fishermen, some of ex-soldiers who were previously stationed there.
Lorenzana said the beaching ramp will “improve their (people) lives because we can bring in especially generators because they don’t have any electricity.”
The armed forces has no intention to put more troops on the island but plans to expand the civilian community by building structures to support a civilian population.
“We will not militarize our islands there, island there. We will not will not bring in military equipment to defend it because I don’t think there is any threat of attack on Pagasa and eight other islands. We have nine islands there in the Spratly and all occupied by our troops,” said Lorenzana.
Apart from Pagasa Island, one of the largest feature in the Spratly. The Philippines also occupy the islands of Panata, Kota, Parola, Likas, Patag, Lawak, Rizal Reef and Ayungin Shoal.
A security official said the beaching ramp is scheduled to be turned over by the contractor to the defense and military establishment next week.
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