A satellite image of Pag-Asa Island with the Rancudo Air Field. (Google Earth image)

A satellite image of Pag-Asa Island with the Rancudo Air Field. (Google Earth image)

The Philippines is set to start a project aimed at repairing its airstrip in the Kalayaan (Spratly) Island Group soon, despite China’s objections, military officials said Wednesday.

Funds are now available to repair eroded portions of the Rancudo Airfield on Pag-Asa (Thitu) Island, Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Delgado said.

“Nagkaroon lang ng mga hitches during the previous years, may time na kinulang ‘yung funds, but now may pondo na naman, we need to repair that,” Delgado said in a press briefing.

Portions of the 1.4-kilometer airstrip, which was built way back in the 1970s, have been “eroded by seawater,” Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Enrico Canaya said.

Last December, the Department of National Defense showed reporters a presentation saying that P479.750 million had been alloted for the project on Pag-Asa under the Armed Forces Modernization Law of 1995, and the project was already undergoing bidding.

Maj. Gen. Edgar Fallorina, Air Force chief of staff, said a company has already won the bid for the project’s first stage, which will be overseen by the Navy and would involve “dredging.”

“That’s for the preparation alone [of] the island, so that construction materials can come in… Hopefully, it will be finished this year,” he said.

The Air Force will implement second stage, which is the repair of the airstrip itself, he said.

On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying accused the Philippines of “illegally and forcefully” occupying territories in the Kalayaan Islands, which China calls Nansha.

Hua also demanded that the Philippines withdraw its facilities and personnel from the islands, as well as stop “provocations” like the airstrip project, despite Beijing’s continuing constructions.

Fallorina said the project will push through as the government had already given it the green light.

“It’s a project under and sanctioned by the Department of National Defense. So far it’s a go, no complaints, no problems,” he said. (John Roson)

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