Air Force defies China protest, to push with airstrip upgrade

By Mario J. Mallari  
The Daily Tribune

Pag-asa-island-airstrip.2The planned upgrade of an airstrip on Pagasa Island in the contested Spratlys will go ahead despite opposition from China, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) yesterday said.

Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Delgado, however, stressed the government is “careful” in proceeding with the repair and upgrade of the airstrip, which has been there since the 1970s, so as not to be misconstrued by other claimant-countries.

The dispute between Manila and Beijing is over competing claims to parts of the South China Sea.

China claims nearly all of the sea, including waters close to the coasts of the Philippines and other claimant countries.

The Philippines has lodged repeated protests in recent years over China’s growing military and civilian presence on islands and in waters within what it considers as its exclusive economic zone.

Most recently, the Philippines has accused China of creating artificial islands on tiny islets and reefs, possibly as a prelude to building military installations.

At a press briefing after the courtesy call of the officers of the Defense Press Corps (DPC) to the PAF leadership, Delgado said the 1.3-kilometer air strip really needs repairs after the project was met with some “hitches” during the previous years, including lack of funds.

“We are addressing that, there were only hitches during the previous years. There was a time due to lack of funds…(and now) there are funds… the bottom line, we need to repair that but on how, that is being addressed now,” he added.

China had earlier accused the Philippine government of “double standard” for calling for a moratorium on all land formation activities in the disputed West Philippine Sea or the South China Sea while a code of conduct is yet to be agreed upon.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying reacted by picking on the air strip repair project on Pagasa Island, which China calls Zhongye Islands, accusing the Philippine government of building a world-class airport on the area.

“That is why we are also being careful on this because we have to clear it with the national government if we can pursue this… these are still plans,” said Delgado.

For his part, PAF Chief of Air Staff Maj. Gen. Edgar Fallorina said a winning bidder was already declared by the Department of National Defense (DND) for the first phase of the project, which is under the Philippine Navy.

“So far it’s a go,” he added.

Fallorina said the project was divided into two phases – the first phase is composed of providing an approach which includes dredging activities for the construction materials to be transported to the island under the Philippine Navy.

“The second part of the project is for the runway itself. So right now, we are content with the Navy project first and hopefully it will be finished this year,” he stressed.

Pagasa Island is part of the Kalayaan islands group (KIGs) or the Spratlys.

Hua also stressed China’s sovereignty over the Spratlys.

The government has allotted P480 million for the repair and upgrade of the 1.3-kilometer airstrip on Pagasa Island, the second largest island in the Spratlys.

The Air Force has also intensified its air patrols in the West Philippine Sea amid increased activities by China in the area.

“We have been there everyday…we are conducting almost every day patrol at the West Philippine Sea,” Delgado said.

He added around 12 to 10 foreign vessels are being sighted in the disputed areas during patrols.

“But it trickles down, at least three or four, so it depends on the level of activities that they are pursuing out there,” Delgado said.

He added the information obtained by air patrols is immediately forwarded to the DND and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

“Right now, based on our role as far as territorial defense is concerned, is that we provide the needed information to higher headquarters as far as our patrols are concerned; we provide the things that we see from above as we conduct our air patrols to higher headquarters for their perusal, that’s our role for the moment, we provide the necessary air intelligence information,” he said.

At present, PAF reconnaissance flights are concentrating on Scarborough Shoal (Bajo de Masinloc) which lies 124 nautical miles off Zambales and Ayungin Shoal which is around 140 nautical miles from Palawan.

Delgado also reiterated the PAF’s commitment to defend the country’s airspace in the South China Sea despite its current shortage of equipment and growing assertiveness of China. PNA

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  1. Jay-jay says:

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