MANILA – Amid China’s continuous reclamation activities in the disputed Spratly Islands, the Philippines opted to halt repair on its small airstrip in Pagasa (Thitu) Island in the region as the country pursued international arbitration.
“The repair has been stopped because we uphold the principle of keeping the status quo in the areas involved,” President Benigno Aquino’s spokesperson Herminio Coloma said in an Agence France-Press report.
“This is part of our strategy for a rules-based and diplomatic approach where we have filed an arbitration case with the UN tribunal,” he added.
Pagasa Island has been home to a small Filipino community, which used to rely on cargo planes to bring in supplies. However, the community started to use cargo ships instead as the airstrip had steadily deteriorated over the years.
Aside from the postponed repair of the airstrip, the Philippines had also suspended exploration works at the Recto (Reed) Bank, also in the South China Sea.
“Under the terms of the force majeure, all exploration work at SC72 (Service Contract 72) is immediately suspended until the DOE (Department of Energy) notifies the company that it may commence drilling,” Forum Energy Plc. said.
Forum originally drilled two appraisal wells for oil and gas explorations at the Recto Bank, prospecting a Sampaguita natural gas plant in the region.
A Forum survey ship was reportedly almost rammed by Chinese patrol vessels in 2013.
The Philippines earlier challenged China’s claim on almost all territories in the South China Sea, asking The Hague to look into the matter and see if China’s reclamation works and control over the seas violated the international law. Hearings on the case will begin next month.
The Philippines believed that arbitration was the peaceful and diplomatic route to settle territorial disputes. China, however, asserted that the UN court had no jurisdiction over the issue.