Tugade confirms Pag-Asa Island seaport ready to open by June 12

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 29) – Transportation Secretary Art Tugade confirmed on Thursday night that the new seaport in the hotly contested Pag-Asa Island in Palawan is ready to operate by June 12.

During the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) meeting Thursday night, Tugade told President Rodrigo Duterte that there will be no inauguration ceremony in the ₱450-million seaport.

Kung maaari i-accept ko na lang sa papel yan, huwag na tayo mag-inaugurate. Umpisahan na lang natin,” said Tugade.

[Translation: If possible, I’ll just accept the papers of the project and not hold an inauguration ceremony anymore. Let’s start its operations immediately.]

In November 2016, the Duterte administration decided to build a seaport in Pag-Asa Island which is the largest Philippine island in the disputed Spratly Group of Islands situated in the West Philippine Sea.

In May 2019, Buhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza questioned the Department of Transportation (DOTr) on the status of the Pag-Asa Island seaport project.

“Where's the ₱450-million seaport?" Atienza asked. "We hope the DOTr is still pushing through with the project, which has become absolutely imperative for us to encourage more Filipinos to live on the remote island.”

The Pag-Asa Island is home to Barangay Pag-Asa, the lone barangay in the town of Kalayaan in Palawan.

The new seaport is expected to improve the island’s accessibility and is expected to further solidify the country’s hold of the island in the disputed waters.

It has a population of around 400 residents, most of them relying on fishing as the main source of their livelihood. Military personnel are also stationed in the island to protect it from outside forces.

The island also has a 1.3-kilometer airstrip and a beaching ramp built by the Department of National Defense that is used to expedite the delivery of construction equipment and materials.

During the past few years, Chinese vessels were spotted roaming around Pag-Asa Island in what could possibly be a move to have control in the area.

For this year alone, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. told a congressional hearing in March that more than 130 Chinese fishing vessels have been seen near the island.

Recent reports also revealed satellite images of former Philippine-occupied islands in the West Philippine Sea that are now converted as military bases by China.

Among them is Zamora Reef, a small island that is adjacent to Pag-Asa Island which the Chinese reclaimed and doubled its landmass to turn into a military outpost.

China has been claiming almost the entire West Philippine Sea, with the country as one of those challenging the claims. Other nations who have disputed China’s assertion in the hotly contested waters are Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Taiwan.

In July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippines in the dispute involving the islands in the West Philippine Sea.

As a way to further assert the country’s ownership of Pag-Asa Island, the government proposed last year to build hotels there.