CITING bad weather, defense and military officials stopped legislators from conducting a public hearing at Pagasa (Thitu) Island, one of the Philippine-occupied islands in the Kalayaan (Spratly) Island Group, on Friday.
Officials at the same time denied that lawmakers were barred from going to Pagasa because of a threat from China, which is a claimant to the island.
“The weather was bad. It would have been unsafe to push through. The weather was the reason. The runway was slippery,” said Brig.Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr., Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman.
The House of Representatives’ government enterprises and privatization committee, headed by Rep. Jesus Sacdalan of North Cotabato, was scheduled to conduct a public hearing in Pagasa on the bill to establish the West Philippine Sea Development Authority.
Representatives Harry Roque of Kabayan party-list, Victor Yap of Tarlac and Gil Acosta of Palawan, as well as Deputy Speaker Rep. Frederick Abueg were among the legislators who were supposed to join the hearing.
The bill seeks to form a government corporation that will administer and develop resources within the West Philippine Sea, with P2 billion in capital.
The hearing will push through as soon as the weather improves, Padilla said.
Pagasa is one of the biggest islands in the Spratlys. It lies about 480 kilometers west of Puerto Princesa City in Palawan, well within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone. The island is also being claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.
Capt. Cherryl Tindog, spokeswoman of the AFP Western Command (Westcom), also cited bad weather as the reason the legislators were barred from going to Pagasa.
“Even our anniversary event in Pagasa was cancelled because the runway is not conducive for landing because of downpour,” she said.
In a statement, Tindog said the AFP, through the Westcom, regretted that it had to disallow the flight of the legislators to the island.
“The AFP’s Westcom is concerned…since it rained the day prior. So much so that even the flight of the SND (Secretary of National Defense), the CSAFP (Chief of Staff of the AFP) and his staff was cancelled for the same reason,” she added.
Arsenio Andolong, chief of the Public Affairs Service of the Department of National Defense, said the runway on Pagasa was soaked by heavy rains, making it soft and dangerous for planes to land on.
“The runway is unpaved and, as such, will need at least five days of dry weather to harden and make it safe again for landing planes,” he explained.