‘False,’ Lorenzana says of think tank report on Pag-asa

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    TOP defense and Navy officials yesterday dismissed reports that Chinese presence around the Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea has delayed the construction of a beaching ramp and other facilities in the island.

    The Washington-based think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) said in a March 5 report that China “has maintained an almost constant militia presence” around Pag-asa Island, called by the Chinese as Thitu Island, based on satellite imagery collected between Dec. 2, 2018 and March 2 this year.

    It also said since China first deployed militia vessels around Pag-asa in December 2018 in response to Philippine efforts to repair the island’s runway and undertake other upgrades, the “militia fleet has fluctuated in size but rarely, if ever, disappeared.”

    “As a result, the Philippines has made very little progress on its planned upgrades. But there are signs that could be changing,” it also said.

    Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the report is “totally false.”

    “I do not know where AMTI’s allegations came from,” he also said.

    He said while Chinese ships frequent the area of Pag-asa island, which is near the Chinese-held Subi Reef, “they (Chinese) have never in any way interfered with the rehab of the island.”

    Navy chief Rear Adm. Giovanni Carlo Bacordo said construction work is proceeding and has not been affected by the Chinese presence around the island.

    Lorenzana said initial delays in the construction work was due to various issues, including the hard seabed which necessitated the contractor to bring in “appropriate drilling equipment.”

    “When work finally started it was slow because of this problem. Second, all equipment and materials are shipped from Puerto Princesa. The seas in the Spratlys are usually rough that the contractor’s barges can only transport materials within a small window of time from January to April, May,” he said.

    “After that it depends on the weather. No repairs could be made in the Pag-asa runway until the beaching ramp is built as it will be used to bring in the heavy equipment, cement, steel bars, sand, and gravel. Without it, no rehab of the island could proceed,” he added.