The local government of Kalayaan in Palawan has named 4 sandbars and 2 coral reefs in Pag-asa (Thitu) Island, whose surrounding waters are continuously being claimed by China despite a 2016 arbitration award invalidating Beijing's sweeping claims over almost the entire South China Sea.
Pag-asa Island, located some 285 miles west of mainland Palawan, hosts Kalayaan municipality and is home to civilian community and a military outpost. The town, officially created in 1978, has a school, military barracks, and a runway, among other infrastructure.
The 37-hectare island is one of the nine islets, sand bars and reefs in the disputed archipelago occupied by the Philippines.
The 4 sandbars surrounding the island were named Pag-asa Cay 1 to 4, according to an ordinance signed last Aug. 14 by Kalayaan Mayor Roberto del Mundo.
The 2 reefs near the island, meanwhile, were named Pag-asa Reef 1 and 2, according to the ordinance.
Kalayaan administrative and information officer Maurice Philip Albayda said the naming of the sandbars and reefs aim to strengthen the country's claim in the West Philippine Sea.
Th Philippines calls the portion of the South China Sea where it lays claim to, as the West Philippine Sea.
"This would show support sa atin pong claim. We all know since 2016, we [have] always been rallying on the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling, na the West Philippine Sea is ours," said Albayda.
(This would show support to our claim. We all know since 2016, we [have] always been rallying on the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling, that the West Philippine Sea is ours.)
"This is not just a simple local legislative measure but also a support to every advocate ng atin pong (of our) West Philippine Sea," Albayda added.
A copy of the ordinance has been sent to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (Provincial Board) of Palawan, according to the municipal officer.
The local government expects that the ordinance will be brought to Congress so the sandbars and reefs could be included on the map of Pag-asa Island.
Albayda said Kalayaan town has the potential to be a center of marine fisheries and tourism in the country.
The Philippines, China, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan have competing claims in the South China Sea, a vital sealane for international commerce which is also believed to be rich in gas and minerals, aside from the abundance in marine resources.