Military to repair airstrip on Pagasa Island in Spratlys

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Aerial photo of the Philippine occupied Kalayaan island in the contested Spratlys group of islands. INQUIRER/Ernie U. Sarmiento

MANILA, Philippines—The military is preparing to repair the airstrip on Pagasa Island in the disputed Spratlys, which is being claimed by the Philippines, a military official said Wednesday.

According to Lieutenant General Juancho Sabban, commander of the military’s Western Command, the repair of the runway is on their priority list.

“If there is no airstrip, our troops will be pitiful. It is used for delivery of provisions and for evacuating our sick soldiers, so we really prioritize that (repair),” Sabban said.

During the last delivery of provisions for the military by the Navy’s <em>BRP Benguet,</em>  some construction materials were also unloaded, but Sabban said they are still awaiting the delivery of more construction materials. The air force engineers also have available equipment in the area, Sabban said.

Sabban added that Armed Forces Chief General Eduardo Oban had ordered the reconstruction of the airstrip “as soon as possible.”

The airstrip, which was built in 1975 on the second-largest island in the Spratlys area (the biggest is Itu Aba Island and is currently being occupied by Taiwan), Sabban said. No other new structures were built there, he added.

“Because of the length of the runway, it was not properly maintained; both ends of the island have extensions of the airstrip and the problem is on one of the extensions, which has eroded, but it is still operational,” Sabban said.

The airstrip can still service the air force’s C130 carrier but only during good weather conditions. On rainy days, only small islander planes can be accommodated, Sabban said.

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