Palace defends Philippine construction in Spratlys

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(file photo) Pag-asa, also internationally known as Thitu, is the stronghold of the Philippines in the disputed Spratly group of islands.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 27) — The Palace defended the construction and repairs on Pag-asa island reported by a U.S.-based think tank.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said these repairs fall within the Philippines' mandate.

"Repair of port facilities in Pag-asa is consistent with our national sovereignty and jurisdiction," Roque said in a statement Saturday.

Satellite photos from a the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) showed the Philippines is doing its own repairs on occupied islands in the Spratlys.

The Spratlys, an island group west of Palawan, is subject to overlapping claims of countries like China, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines. China claims almost the entire South China Sea where an estimated $3 trillion worth of sea-borne goods pass every year.

The country has nine outposts in the Spratlys, as set in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), with Pag-asa being the largest of the nine features.

The AMTI on Saturday reported that the Philippines has been repairing the runways on Pag-asa Island (international name: Thitu Island).

"Thitu sits just over 12 nautical miles from China's air and naval base at Subi Reef, and was the site of a tense standoff with a Chinese flotilla last August," the AMTI said.

READ: Alejano: Chinese vessels seen near Pag-asa islands

AMTI satellite photos from May 17 showed two dredging vessels found west of Pag-asa island, fixing the collapsed airplane runway.

"Loose sediment from dredging can be seen in the water around the two barges and freshly-deposited sand is visible along the northern edge of the runway," the AMTI said.

While the think tank noted that dredgers like the ones used by the Philippines and Vietnam can still harm marine environment, it is still less harmful than the suction cutter dredging method used by China.

The dredging, it added, is needed to allow larger vessels carrying heavy machinery and construction materials to approach the island.

The AMTI also noted seven new buildings constructed on Pag-asa, and that the basketball court has received a fresh coat of paint.

Pag-asa is home to at least a hundred Filipinos and a small military garrison.

Satellite photos also featured new construction in other Philippine occupied features in the Spratlys, namely Rizal Reef (international name: Commodore reef), Lawak Island (international name: Nanshan island) and Panata Island (international name: Loaita cay) within the year.

A new shelter has been built on Rizal Reef and Panata Island, while Lawak Island has a new helipad.

There have been no visible repairs or upgrades in the five remaining Philippine-occupied features in the disputed island region.