Palawan gov pays ‘symbolic’ visit to Pag-asa Island | Global News

Palawan gov pays ‘symbolic’ visit to Pag-asa Island

/ 05:43 AM January 16, 2024

HISTORIC JOURNEY Palawan Gov. Victorino Dennis Socrates (third from left), joined here by military and civilian officials, vows to bring government services to remote Pag-asa Island in Kalayaan town. —PHOTO COURTESY OF TACTICAL OPERATIONS WING WEST, PHILIPPINE AIR FORCE

Palawan Governor V. Dennis M. Socrates visited Pag-asa Island in the municipality of Kalayaan on Sunday, January 14, 2024, together with Western Commander VADM Alberto Carlos (PN) and Kalayaan Mayor Roberto Del Mundo, along with other officials from Wescom and local media. (Photo from Tactical Operations Wing West, Philippine Air Force)

KALAYAAN, Palawan, Philippines — Gov. Victorino Dennis Socrates on Sunday visited this town’s remote Pag-asa Island (Thitu Island), which is situated in the West Philippine Sea, in a symbolic move to assert the country’s sovereign rights over the territory that is being claimed by China.

During his interaction with the island’s residents, Socrates expressed his admiration for their “resilience” amid the escalating tension between the Philippine and Chinese coast guards due to the territorial disputes between the two countries.


China has a sweeping maritime claim over the entire West Philippine Sea based on its nine-dash line (now extended to 10-dash claim) which was already refuted by the Permanent Court of Arbitration.


“I would like to thank you all for staying and living here because you are the best and strongest proof and who give life to the truth that Kalayaan is indeed part of the Philippines,” Socrates told the residents.

The governor reiterated that Kalayaan, including Pag-asa Island, is inside the country’s 370-kilometer (200-nautical mile) exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Pag-asa is the largest, at 32.7 hectares, and the only inhabited among the seven islands comprising the Kalayaan Group of Islands.

Kalayaan is located 445 km (277 miles) from Palawan’s capital city of Puerto Princesa.

Socrates said his visit marked the first time in recent years that a Palawan governor came here to assess the status of the provincial government’s programs and projects.

“My father was governor for more than 20 years and yet in my memory, I don’t recall that he was able to come here during his term. That’s why I’m really thankful that I was able to do so and perform my duty to come and visit you,” Socrates said in a short program.


He said that his visit was part of his “obligations” as the province’s chief executive, describing it as a “significant move” in the face of China’s continuing aggression in the West Philippine Sea.


“To all our fellow countrymen across the Philippines, our claim to Kalayaan may just be words, but you being here, proving and shouting through your character, way of life and physical presence, truly affirms that Kalayaan is indeed part of the Philippines and Palawan,” Socrates said.

The governor recalled how Filipino explorer and fishing fleet owner Tomas Cloma discovered the island and claimed it for the Philippines by virtue of terra nullius (no one’s territory).

“There is no claimant so we claimed it as our own and then in 1978, then President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. issued Presidential Decree No. 1596 creating the municipality of Kalayaan,” he said.

Socrates added: “And in one of the lectures of former [Supreme Court Senior Associate] Justice [Antonio] Carpio, he said that Kalayaan Island Group is part of the Philippines by virtue of historic title because it was part of the territory ceded by Spain to the United States under the 1898 Treaty of Paris.”


According to Socrates, plans are underway to expand residential areas to other islands in the West Philippine Sea to “further boost the country’s sovereignty in the region.”

“I believe the government is encouraging more people to come and settle here, not only in Pag-asa but in the outlying islands,” the governor said.

Part of the plans, Socrates said, is to make investments on Lawak Island, which is largely a bird sanctuary.

“People can settle on the other side of the island (Lawak). So we [enhance] our presence which can further strengthen our ownership of the place,” Socrates said.

He assured Pag-asa residents that the provincial government had allocated funds for more projects that would be implemented on the island this year.

Socrates said that while the provincial government wants to bring more programs and projects to the island, they had to “carefully study what interventions to bring and find areas to put investments in” since the area is small.

“We will soon construct a two-classroom school building, a recreational center and another building which we hope to complete this year. And of course, during the time of Gov. Jose Alvarez, the construction of the sheltered port was started and is now in its Phase 3,” he noted.

Kalayaan Mayor Roberto del Mundo thanked Socrates for his visit, saying it was an inspiration for the residents.

“We are thankful and very lucky to have the father of our province as a visitor,” Del Mundo said.

In an interview, Western Command chief Vice Adm. Alberto Carlos said the governor’s visit showed a “strong partnership” between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the provincial government of Palawan.

According to AFP chief of staff Romeo Brawner Jr., the government will develop islands in the South China Sea that it considers part of its territory to make them more habitable for troops.

The plans come amid heightened tensions between the Philippines and China, both of whom claim territory in the South China Sea and have traded accusations of aggressive behavior in the strategic waterway.

Apart from Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, the Philippines occupies eight other features in the South China Sea, and considers them part of its EEZ.

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“We’d like to improve all the nine, especially the islands we are occupying,” Brawner said after attending a command conference led by President Marcos at Camp Aguinaldo on Monday.

TAGS: maritime dispute, Pag-asa Island, PH-China Relations, Victorino Dennis Socrates

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