MANILA, Philippines – Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said P1.6 billion has been allocated to proceed with long delayed plans to construct facilities in Pag-asa (Tithu) Island, the second biggest naturally occuring island in the entire South China Sea and the only one with a community of civilians.
The funding will cover mainly the repair of the runway.
"P1.2 billion ($24 million)* [for the runway] plus P400 million ($8 million) for transportation. P1.6 billion lahat (total). Dito lang sa Pag-asa muna yan (We will spend all of that here first)," Lorenzana told reporters who joined him in his trip to the disputed seas. (READ: PH security officials visit disputed island in West PH Sea)
He wants to speed up the construction work. He said he will tap the navy's Seebees – a mobile construction unit of the Philippine Navy – to immediately beach the island so that the military's landing ship tanks can bring in construction materials.
"Dapat kasi maumpisan natin ito hanggang...kasi kapag July, tag-ulan na 'yan e. Kaya ang magandang gawin muna ay beaching, 'yung landingan ng LST (Landing Ship Tank)," Lorenzana said. "We'll also hire civilian laborers," he said.
(We should be able to start it before July because it will already be the rainy season. It's good if we can do the beaching immediately so the LSTs can land.) He said the soldiers should arrive on Pag-asa Island in the next few weeks to start work.
Fixing the runway, finally
Lorenzana promised to fix and extend the eroded runway. "Kanina nakakatakot mag-landing itong C130. Akala mo lalampas na sa runway dahil sa igsi ng runway (It was a scary landing for the C130. You'd think it would overshoot the short runway)," he said. (READ: Duterte adviser bares plan to fix PH runway in West PH Sea)
He also wants to build a solar power tower, a desalination facility, a fish port, and a sewage system.
He envisioned turning the island's white sand beaches into a tourist destination, a proposal that local officials in Pag-asa Island have been proposing for a while.
"Napakaganda ng beaches, puting-puti at saka mababaw lang (The beaches are beautiful, very white and they're just shallow). We will develop this into a tourism area and marine research. Gagawa tayo ng mga facilities dito, building, at saka pagagandahin din natin 'yung tirahan ng ating mga sundalo (We will put up facilities, buildings, and we will also improve the barracks of the soldiers)," he said.
"Kapag nagawa na natin itong runway rito na maganda, makakapunta na lahat. Madaling pumunta dito. Maraming magpupunta rito dahil magandang tourist attraction ito e," Lorenzana said.
(Once the runway is fixed, everyone can come. It's easy to come here. A lot of people will want to go because it's a great tourist attraction.)
The previous administration had similar plans, had allocated funding, and awarded contracts for the development of Pag-asa Island. But it was deferred as the country filed an international arbitration case against China's actions against the Philippines inside its 200-nautical exclusive economic zone.
"I think we could already resume at 'yun naman ang gustong mangyari ni President (that's what the President wants), na i-improve ang faciltiies dito (to improve facilities here)," Lorenzana said. – Rappler.com