The construction of a beaching ramp on Pag-asa (Thitu) Island, the Philippines’ biggest outpost on Spratly Islands (Kalayaan) in the West Philippine Sea, will be finished before the year ends, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Friday (July 5).
The new target completion date was moved back from the previous date which was before the onset of the monsoon season this year.
Lorenzana attributed the delay to bad weather which prevented the project contractor from bringing in materials and supplies for the ramp construction.
“It is now 60 percent finished and we expect the beaching ramp to be finished by the end of this year then after that we can start repairing the runway,” Lorenzana told reporters on the sidelines of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines’ 45th anniversary.
The beaching ramp would allow improvements on the runway on the biggest of eight areas occupied by the Philippines in the volatile maritime region which China is claiiming to be nearly entirely its territory.
The Philippine government announced in 2017 that it will start the construction of a beaching ramp on Pagasa Island to allow ships to bring construction materials for the repair of the 1.3 kilometer unpaved airstrip that was first built in the 1970s.
The first target date of completion of the beaching ramp was the end of 2018 but it continued to face delays.
Repairs on the island were put on hold when the Philippines filed a maritime case against China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration.
The Philippines won the ruling in 2016, but it was never acknowledged by China. President Rodrigo Duterte also set aside the verdict in exchange for cozier relations with the Asian behemoth.
The Asia Maritime Transparency Institute (AMTI), a think tank keeping close watch on developments in Spratlys, had reported suspicions that the Philippine construction project on Pag-asa drew hostile reaction from China.
AMTI said Chinese maritime militias had been deployed to Pag-asa in apparent reaction to the Philippine construction project there.
AMTI had said Chinese vessels had operated around Pag-asa and another Philippine territory, Subi, since July 2018.
The movement was likely in response to Philippine construction activity on Pag-asa, according to AMTI on its website.
On Dec. 3, 2018 before construction began on Pag-asa, AMTI noted an increase in the number of Chinese vessels around Pag-asa, citing satellite images.
Aside from establishing a muncipality on Pag-asa, the Philippines has maintained presence on Northeast Cay, Laoita Cay, Laoita Island, West York Island, Flat Island, Nanshan Island and Second Thomas Shoal, according to the website The Diplomat. (Editor: Tony Bergonia)
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