The further development of Pagasa (Thitu) Island and Kalayaan (Spratly) Island Group or KIG will get a much needed boost from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to ensure the protection of the country's maritime interests in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
AFP Chief Gen. Cirilito Sobejana made the commitment on Wednesday, July 21, as he acknowledged the need for Pagasa Island to be converted into a "logistics hub" for the "protection of the KIG's biodiversity and the livelihood of its fishing communities."
By turning the island into a logistics hub, the military will be able to guard the WPS easier as they no longer need to travel far back to Palawan for refueling during patrol operations.
On Monday, Sobejana discussed in a virtual meeting the military's development plans in the area with Palawan Governor Jose Alvarez, who also serves as the chairperson of the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development.
"We view it as a strategic and critical national security frontier, particularly in the interests of ecological balance and sustainable development," Sobejana said.
The military chief also lauded the initiatives of the Palawan provincial government to protect the nation’s interest through its proposal to declare the KIG as a protected area under the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (Republic Act 7586).
Sobejana and Alvarez also talked about the development of Pagasa Island as a "haven" for Filipino fishermen and a possible tourist destination for visitors.
Sobejana said such move will require the expansion and construction of facilities that are aimed at sustaining an increased economic activity in the island.
Pagasa Island is part of KIG in the West Philippine Sea. It is located around 480 km west of Puerto Princesa, Palawan.
The island has a total land area of 37.2 hectares and is the largest administered Philippine island in the WPS. A small community of fishermen, about 200 of them, are living on the island along with some Marines and Navy personnel.
In June 2020, the Department of National Defense (DND) and AFP inaugurated a beaching ramp on Pagasa Island. It was considered as the first major military project to be finished on the island since it was occupied by the Philippines in the 1970s.
A number of facilities were also established on Pagasa Island including a municipal hall, multi-purpose hall, health center, a school, residential buildings, marina, an airstrip, control tower, cell site, and military barracks.
The P267.18 million worth beaching ramp is part of the Phase 1 of the four-part AFP Basing Support System Project at the Western Command (WesCom) area of responsibility.
A total of P1.3 billion worth of projects were in the pipeline for the next three phases of the Pagasa Island development program.
It includes the repair and concreting of a runway that has been damaged by erosion; construction of a parking apron; and establishment of facilities such as additional barracks for the stationed soldiers, houses for the community, schools, electric posts, and communication towers among others.