The Department of Transportation (DOTr) is spending P450 million to build a new seaport in Pag-asa Island in the Spratly archipelago, Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel, a member of the House committee on appropriations, said over the weekend.
“Funding for the project has been included in the House-approved 2017 General Appropriations Act, under the DOTr’s aggregate P3.98-billion spending program for the maritime sector,” Pimentel said.
The new port will vastly improve accessibility to the area and bolster the country’s claims in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), according to a DOTr report submitted to Congress.
Located 518 kilometers northwest of Puerto Princesa City, Pag-asa belongs to the Kalayaan Island Group on the western section of the Spratly archipelago.
China is claiming the entire Spratly archipelago and its many ridges.
But a tribunal of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in July that Philippine territories in the West Philippine Sea could not be overlapped by any possible entitlement of China.
“We support the port development project, which will surely help encourage human settlement in the remote Philippine island that now has less than 400 residents, mostly fishermen,” Pimentel, also a member of the House Committee on National Defense and Security, said.
The lawmaker said the University of the Philippines’ Marine Science Institute and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources should now consider putting up a research station in Pag-asa.
He also urged the Department of Energy to find ways to provide the 37.2-hectare island a renewable and stable source of electricity.
At present, only a 75-kilovolt-ampere generator set supplies some of the island’s electric supply.
A low-lying landmass surrounded by shallow coral ranges, Pag-asa has been occupied by the Philippines since 1970.
Then President Ferdinand Marcos established by decree in 1978 the Municipality of Kalayaan over the Kalayaan Island Group under the Province of Palawan.
Pag-asa is the lone barangay of Kalayaan, which is the country’s smallest municipality.
At present, Pag-asa is guarded by a small military detachment led by an officer with the rank of lieutenant. The Philippine Navy also has the Naval Station Emilio Liwanag in the island.
Pag-asa used to be a purely Philippine military installation until the government allowed civilians to settle in.
The island has an unpaved 1.3-kilometer airstrip, a one-classroom primary school and a five-bed clinic.