PAG-ASA ISLAND– Amid escalating tensions with China’s overlapping claims in the South China Sea, Armed Forces chief of staff General Gregorio Catapang Jr. visited the municipality of Pag-asa, a part of the Kalayaan Island Group (Spratlys) in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), on Monday.
General Catapang is the first AFP chief to visit Pagasa Island under the Aquino administration, at a time that tension in the region continues to escalate due to maritime disputes with China. He also emphasized the strengthening of the external defense capability of the country.
“We just landed safely without being challenged and I congratulate the pilot because the runway is very short so we’re always at the tip of the runway when we’re about to land or stop,” General Catapang said.
Catapang added that “I congratulate the pilot who is very good in landing, it’s quite a short runway,” Aside from being short, the runway in Pagasa is old and badly needs a repair.
It can be recalled that there has been several incidents where our Air Force and Naval Air assets were challenged by the Chinese whenever they conduct routine sovereignty patrols.
The visit of Gen Catapang is a big morale booster for troops stationed there and for civilians living in the island, who are under constant fear because of the presence of Chinese vessels within the West Philippine Sea and their constant activities described by him as “enormous”.
Catapang said the visit is a show that the disputed island is part of Philippine territory and it was in response to the invitation of Kalayaan Mayor Eugenio Bito-Onon Jr. It serves also as a farewell visit to the troops stationed in the area where he is scheduled to retire in the military service by July.
Catapang also added that part of his visit is to determining how the AFP can help in further developing Pagasa Island, which is a rich fishing ground and ideal tourism spot.