By Martin Sasdongdong
BRP Ivatan (LC298), a landing craft, has made a historic dock at the nearly-completed port of Pagasa (Thitu) Island in the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG or Spratly Islands)—making it the first ever Philippine Navy (PN) vessel that berthed on the Philippine-occupied island located in the West Philippine Sea, the military revealed on May 19, Tuesday.
Commodore Renato David, commander of Naval Forces West (NFW), said the docking of BRP Ivatan on Pagasa Island happened last May 13 as part of the troop’s rotation and reprovisioning (RORE) mission at the different KIG detachments in the West Philippine Sea.
Skippered by Cdr. Bennie B Demetillo, BRP Ivatan initially arrived in Puerto Princesa, Palawan on May 17 after weeks of traversing the West Philippine Sea for the RORE mission which also included Rizal Reef Detachment (RRD), Lawak, and Patag Islands.
David said BRP Ivatan “successfully conducted its task as a platform of NFW’s mission team for the rotation of troops in Pagasa detachment and delivery of the necessary supplies and goods for consumption of the sailors and marines assigned in the area for security purposes.”
According to Lieutenant Maivi Neri, NFW’s acting public affairs officer, Navy ships couldn’t dock on Pagasa Island since the 1980s because of the unfinished port.
“They could only conduct ship to shore movements using rubber boats,” Neri said.
Now, they were able to do so because the port was already 90-percent completed, Neri said. BRP Ivatan stayed briefly on Pagasa Island after its RORE mission before it returned to Palawan.
Pagasa is the biggest island occupied by Filipino soldiers and a small fishing community in the Kalayaan Island Group.
The Philippine government established the municipality of Kalayaan on Pag-asa Island in 1978.
China has successfully militarized seven reefs that are also being claimed by the Philippines in Kalayaan in a bid to assert its dominance in the entire South China Sea.
The Department of National Defense and Armed Forces of the Philippines have been making development works on Pagasa Island, with a beaching ramp and a runway currently under construction, to strengthen its hold of its territory in the hotly-contested South China Sea.
This, despite an international ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitration which invalidated China’s so-called nine-dash line reasoning in claiming a major portion of the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea that covers the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.