Friendly settlement of Pag-asa issue assured

E CARTOON APR 4, 2019The  Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest with China over the reported presence  of  so many  Chinese vessels near Pag-asa island, about 300  kilometers west of southern Palawan.  Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines  Zhao  Jianhua  has immediately  assured China’s cooperation to verify the reports  and  handle  the issue  through friendly  and diplomatic channels, allaying  fears of an outbreak of conflict over the issue.

At the center of the issue  is the island  of  Pag-asa, also  known  as Thitu.  On  the island is the small  town of Kalayaan, a 5th class municipality of Palawan  province.   As early as 1946, President Elpidio Quirino  had  declared Pag-asa and eight  smaller islands nearby, which he called Southern  Islands,  as part of the Philippines.  President  Ferdinand  Marcos signed into  law in 1978 Presidential Decree 1596 creating the municipality  of  Kalayaan.  In 2009, Congress  enacted  RA 9522 defining the archipelagic baselines of the Philippines, claiming sovereignty over the Kalayaan  islands.

The first recorded election in Kalayaan  was  on January 20, 1980, which elected Aloner M. Heraldo.  After a series of appointed mayors, elections were held on May 11, 1992, and Gil D. Policarpio was elected.  The current  mayor is Roberto M. del  Mundo who won on May 9, 2016.

Kalayaan  has an  old airstrip dating back to the time when it was a military installation, a five-bed lying-in clinic, and  a small elementary  school.  The Philippine government  decided to do repair work on the  old  runway  on the island in May, 2018. To facilitate the delivery of construction equipment  and materials,  a “beaching  ramp” was built.  Satellite images  showed  excavators depositing sand over an area of about 32,000 square meters, according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) of the Washington-based  think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Shortly  thereafter, AMTI said, Chinese vessels were seen operating in increasing  numbers in the area – “likely in response to the initial Philippine effort  to start runway repairs.” China claims most of the South China Sea, as delineated by a nine-dash line  as  its sovereign  territory.

The Washington  think tank  noted a decrease in government vessels  in January, suggesting, it said,   that the Chinese forces have settled into a pattern of monitoring “after their initial large deployment  failed to convince Manila to stop construction.”

The  projected investigation after the filing of the diplomatic  protest should  be able to verify this  and other details of  the events around  Pag-asa  island. We are confident  that  the issue will be settled amicably, as have all other issues among the various  nations  with conflicting interests and claims  in the South  China  Sea.