'Pag-asa Island needs better facilities'

by Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 21 2011 09:48 PM | Updated as of Jul 22 2011 05:48 AM

PAG-ASA ISLAND, Philippines - Three of the 5 lawmakers who went on a “peace and sovereignty mission” in Spratlys said there is a need to improve the conditions of Pag-asa Island, both from a military and a civilian standpoint.

Akbayan Representatives Walden Bello and Kaka Bag-ao and Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat retold their stories to the media of what happened during their visit there on Wednesday.

Pag-asa Island is the second biggest island in the disputed West Philippine Sea or South China Sea.

At the moment, Paga-asa Island has 5 anti-aircraft machineries that have visibly been weathered by time, but are "still fully functional," said AFP Western Command (Wescom) Chief Gen. Juancho Sabban.

Of all the islands in the Spratlys, Pag-asa was the first to have an airstrip, but it has remained unimproved until today.

Pag-asa has no pier or marina, and can only be approached either by air or by small boats, Sabban said.

The congressmen echoed Wescom's request for both a marina and a cemented airstrip.

Bag-ao also promised to look into the living conditions of the people inhabiting the island, saying it has no school, hospital, nor any vehicle for navigation.

She recounted how children need to leave their families if they want to study in the nearest Puerto Princesa schools.

At least one person has also died because flights to and from Pag-asa are few, and the Navy vessel that drops supplies only arrives once a month.

Bag-ao said they will donate part of Akbayan's Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to construct a school there.

Meanwhile, Baguilat also thanked the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), for giving the contingent clearance to travel there.

A day before the group left, DFA announced that they needed clearance before traveling. Bello said the DFA eventually came around and said there was no legal impediment for the mission to push through.

The lawmakers also discussed developments made in the other islands by the other claimant countries.

Vietnam and Malaysia have established resorts on the islets they control. Vietnam and China also have heavy anti-aircraft weapons.

Before and after landing in Pag-asa, the contingent flew over some of the 8 other islands and shoals under Philippine control.

They deliberately avoided flying over Mischief Reef, however, which they said was “risky” because of the presence of 2 large Chinese vessels and a garrison-like structure, largely considered to be military housing.

The planes also avoided Pugad Island, which is controlled by Vietnam and also heavily-armed. Pugad Island is only a few kilometers away from Philippine-controlled Parola Island.