Delay hits gov't plan to fix runway in West Philippine Sea

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine security officials are blaming "weather conditions" for failing to start the long-awaited repair of its dilapidated runway in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) 4 months since the plans were announced. (READ: PH plans for Pag-asa to test Duterte's friendship with China)

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the runway in Pag-asa (Thitu) cannot be expected to be fixed within the year. 

"Hindi natin magagawa ngayong taon na ito (We can't do it this year)," Lorenzana said during a budget hearing at the House of Representatives on Monday, August 14. (READ: PH allots P1.6B to fast-track construction on Pag-asa

Lorenzana visited the island in April 2017 and committed to fast-track the repair of the runway on the second biggest naturally occuring island in the Spratlys, where about a hundred Filipinos are residing. (READ: The residents of Pag-asa: Life on a disputed island)

Navy chief Vice Admiral Ronald Mercado said the construction company will do its best to start the construction soon. 

"Weather conditions gave some limitation on the tranpsort of construction equipment to Pag-asa. The sea condition is a bit rough right now. But they have intimated to us they will do their best to start the construction of the beaching ramp," Mercado told lawmakers asking updates on the projects. 

China protested Lorenzana's visit in April, pushing its claim over practically the entire South China Sea.

President Rodrigo Duterte previously planned to visit the island and plant a Philippine flag there himself. He backed out after protests from China, but he maintained that it is his duty to repair the runway there.

Duterte warmed Philippine ties with China after tense relations with his predecessor President Aquino, who led and won an international arbitration case against China claims over the West Philippine Sea. 

But China continues to develop reefs it reclaimed, raising alarm from observers despite continued assurances from the Philippine government that the situation is better. (READ: Photos show Cayetano, Wang wrong on China reclamation)

There are concerns, too, that China might be eyeing to occupy sandbars near Pag-asa island. Its ships are recently spotted too close to the Philippine-occupied island.  – Rappler.com