Pag-asa port construction unmolested, says Lorenzana
The country is literally shoring up its claims in the West Philippine Sea, building a beaching ramp on Pag-asa (Thitu) Island so it could bring in construction materials to upgrade the airstrip and other installations.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters during an Air Force symposium in Camp Aguinaldo on Thursday that construction of the port was already 40-percent complete.
Lorenzana said the concreting of the airstrip on Pag-asa Island, located 480 kilometers west of Puerto Princesa City, could only start after the landing dock was in place.
“Without that, we cannot bring [in] construction materials,” he said, adding that there had been no harassment from Chinese Coast Guard vessels in the area.
Lorenzana described as “isolated” the May 11 incident at Ayungin Shoal in which a Chinese helicopter hovered dangerously close to a Philippine Navy rubber boat trying to bring in supplies to the Marine troops stationed on the BRP Sierra Madre, the rusting Navy ship that the government grounded there in 1999 to mark Philippine territory.
Malacañang stood by President Duterte’s remarks that he was unaware of the Chinese harassment of the resupply mission.
“I will have to go by what the President said. You heard what he said…I can’t say anything else other than what the President has said,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said.
Lorenzana said the Chinese Coast Guard seemed to have stopped aggressive operations against Philippine vessels after the Ayungin Shoal incident.
“We protested because it’s harassment,” he said.— JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE AND JULIE M. AURELIO
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