Upon arriving at Pag-asa Island, reporters receive text message welcoming them to China

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 9) — Upon arriving at the Philippines-occupied Pag-asa Island with top defense officials, some reporters received a text message welcoming them to China.

CNN Philippines and ABS-CBN’s news teams both received the text messages prompting them to subscribe to a roaming data plan during their stay on the island, which is also claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also received a text greeting which said, “Welcome to Vietnam!”

Lorenzana only found the text messages amusing and largely ignored them, but suggested that the Philippines should also set up its own powerful cell sites on the island that will greet mobile users with “Welcome to the Philippines!”

SMART Communications spokesperson Ramon Isberto explained to CNN Philippines that their cell site on the island is down, which is one of the reasons why some reporters and defense officials who paid a visit there on Tuesday got the welcome message.

Ang hirap kasi mag-maintain ng cell site doon (It’s difficult to maintain a cell site there) because transport is very difficult. You can’t just get a boat and go there. You have to get military clearance. And sometimes, if there’s a security issue, there’s no travel around,” Isberto said.

He added that even if their cell site were operational, some users could still get the welcome messages from Chinese and Vietnamese telecommunications companies as their signals still reach the island.

“It’s a question of the positioning of your cell phone kung nasaan ka relative to the different cell sites. Kasi kung mas malakas 'yung signal ng isa, mas malapit ka kasi doon, your phone would pick up that signal,” he said.

[Translation: It’s a question of the positioning of your cell phone as to where you are relative to the different cell sites. Because if the one of the operators’ signal is stronger and you’re closer there, your phone would pick up that signal.]

New beaching ramp

Lorenzana and other top defense officials headed to the Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea on Tuesday to formally open the Navy’s beaching ramp on the island.

Sea transport can be tough at Pag-asa primarily due to the absence of a decent pier.

Previously, vessels had to drop their anchors about half a kilometer from the island and passengers and their cargo would need to be transferred to smaller boats that will bring them to the shore.

Now, bigger vessels, especially Navy ships ferrying crucial supplies like food and other provisions, can dock at the island.

Engineering equipment and construction supplies needed for the repair of Pag-asa Island’s dilapidated airstrip can also now be hauled in.

The construction for the beaching ramp started in 2017 and was targeted to be finished in a year, but bad weather and rough sea conditions delayed its completion.

A sheltered seaport built on another part of the island will also be inaugurated this week. Here, fishermen and their fishing vessels can seek protection during stormy weather.

Dadayuhin na kami ng mga turista dito magkakaron ng kami ng income ang munisipyo. Wala kaming source of income eh,” Kalayaan town Mayor Roberto del Mundo said.

[Translation: Tourists would come to us now and we’ll have a source of income. We don’t have a source of income now.]

Pag-asa is one of the biggest islands in the disputed Spratlys in the South China Sea and is the seat of the Kalayaan municipal government under the province of Palawan.

The Philippines calls the areas in the South China Sea that it claims and occupies as the West Philippine Sea. China has built artificial islands, prohibited Filipino fishermen from fishing and interfered in petroleum exploration in some of these areas.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague recognized the Philippines' sovereign rights in some sea features within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone that are being claimed by China, and called out Beijing's violations.

China rejects the tribunal's decision and insists on its claim to practically the entire South China Sea, supposedly based on historic rights.

CNN Philippines’ Xave Gregorio contributed to this report.