Tag Archive: Vietnam

Pag-Asa (Thitu) Island. 2008 photo by author.

Pag-Asa (Thitu) Island. 2008 photo by author.

Residents in Pag-Asa (Thitu) Island have started promoting the island as a tourist destination amid tension among countries claiming the Kalayaan (Spratly) Island Group in the West Philippine Sea.

Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez, chief of the Armed Forces’ Western Command, confirmed that the tourism campaign has started albeit at a small scale, and said the military stands ready to help.

“We can help organize tour packages,” Lopez told reporters in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan.

Lopez made the remark after visiting Pag-Asa Island with Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Pio Catapang, other military officials, and reporters last Monday.

During the visit, reporters saw some residents of Pag-Asa — where only fish was peddled before — selling souvenir shirts promoting the island as a tourist spot.

White shirts printed with beaches, starfishes, aerial pictures of Pag-Asa, and other Philippine-occupied territories in the Spratlys are being sold at the Kalayaan municipal hall for P280.

One resident also makes “tuba” (coconut wine) and offers this for P75 a liter to visitors.

Such merchandise were not seen on the island before, until China boosted its presence in the West Philippine Sea.

Reclamation and construction on China-held Subi Reef as seen from Pag-Asa. Photo by author.

Reclamation and construction on China-held Subi Reef as seen from Pag-Asa. 2015 photo by author.

Chinese warships and Coast Guard vessels are frequently seen in the disputed waters while construction and reclamation works are ongoing in China-held features including Subi (Zamora) Reef, which is only about 25 kilometers from Pag-Asa.

Residents said they have also been seeing Vietnamese fishing vessels straying near Pag-Asa — particularly at a reef to the island’s east and a sandbar to the north — and carry out dynamite fishing.

Lopez said the military cannot “actually escort” tourists to Pag-Asa because that’s not in its mandate, though helping arrange tours is allowable.

In his visit, Catapang said the military will “reinforce” tourism efforts, though securing visitors would be a joint effort with Coast Guard and local government agencies because Pag-Asa is in “internal waters.”

Tours could be extended to the other Philippine-occupied islands Patag (Flat), Kota (Loaita), Panata (Lankiam), Lawak (Nanshan), Likas (West York), and even Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, he added.

Kalayaan Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon said the tourism campaign will go full scale “next year” after the town buys a 25-meter steel-hulled boat for P10 million.

The Pag-Asa airstrip's western edge. 2015 photo by author.

The Pag-Asa airstrip’s western edge. 2015 photo by author.

The boat project, which is aimed at ferrying visitors from a jump-off station from mainland Palawan, comes while the government has yet to repair the airstrip on Pag-Asa.

A chunk of the 1.3-kilometer airstrip’s western edge has eroded into the sea, though small aircraft and military planes can still land.

A “pasalubong” (souvenir) shop and lodge will also be opened on Pag-Asa to cater to tourists, Bito-onon said. (John Roson)

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Navy servicemen of the Philippines are set to arrive in one of the Kalayaan (Spratly) Islands occupied by Vietnam today (June 8) for “friendly games” with their counterparts, Philippine Navy spokesman Cmdr. Gregory Fabic said.

A “platoon-size” contingent, or about 30 personnel, from the Philippines will participate in the games, Fabic said by phone Saturday.

The games, Fabic noted, will not pit one country against another and won’t grant awards.

Lineups for the games, which include football, will be a “mix” of Filipino and Vietnamese players, he said.

“Ang maganda dito is hindi country-versus-country ang laban, just like the goodwill games we have with the US and other friendly countries,” Fabic said.

“There will also be cultural activities. It will only be a one-day affair,” he said.

Volleyball and tug-of-war will also be played, Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda, commander of the Armed Forces Western Command, said in a mobile-phone message earlier.

The games will be held on Pugad Island or Southwest Cay, which was previously occupied by the Philippines and now by Vietnam. (John Roson)

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Navy servicemen of the Philippines and Vietnam are set to hold friendly games in one of the disputed Kalayaan (Spratly) Islands of the West Philippine (South China) Sea on June 8, a military official said Wednesday.

“There will be football, volleyball, and tug-of-war,” Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda, commander of the Armed Forces’ Western Command, said in a mobile-phone message.

The games are scheduled to be held on Pugad Island or Southwest Cay, which was previously occupied by the Philippines and now by Vietnam, Capt. Cherryl Tindog, the command’s spokesperson, said by phone.

Navy personnel from both countries will participate in the games, which is an implementation of a previously-signed memorandum of agreement, she said.

“The games will push through. At this stage, only inclement weather can stop the event,” another military official said. (John Roson)

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The Philippines is preparing contingencies for possible actions by China against Filipino vessels in the West Philippine (South China) Sea, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Wednesday.

“Anything can happen, but we are preparing contingencies,” Gazmin said in a press briefing.

Gazmin made the remark when asked if the Philippines fears that Filipino vessels would also suffer the same fate as the Vietnamese fishing boat rammed and sank by China on May 26.

The defense chief admitted being concerned about China’s aggressive activities, but said the government will not renege on the responsibility to both military personnel and civilians at sea.

“Tayo ay nababahala pero hindi naman tayo kinakabahan dahil ito’y ating responsibilidad na bigyan ng resupply ‘yung ating mga tao dun at ‘yung iro-rotate nating mga personnel dun sa area,” Gazmin said.

He declined to elaborate on the contingencies.

Gazmin said incidents are also being reported to the Department of Foreign Affairs for action, which “normally” come in the form diplomatic protests. (John Roson)

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Authorities drove away a Vietnamese fishing vessel after spotting it near the Tubbataha Reef natural park in Palawan on Friday night, the military said Saturday.

The 50- to 60-tonner vessel was observed to be flying a Philippine flag when it was spotted at the reef’s vicinity around 10 p.m., Armed Forces Western Command spokeswoman 1Lt. Cherryl Tindog said, citing a report from the Tubbataha Management Office.

“Accordingly, pinaalis din agad po ng mga park rangers natin doon… Nagkaroon ng pursuit up to 2 nautical miles northeast of the park’s boundaries pero di na tinuloy ang paghabol dahil masama ang kundisyon ng dagat that time,” Tindog said in a text message.

Some of the park rangers are Navy personnel, she added.

Members of the Naval Forces West were sent to the reef Saturday to get more information on the Vietnamese vessel, Tindog said.

It was the third time for a foreign vessel to be spotted at the Tubbataha Reef this year.

On April 8, a Chinese fishing vessel ran aground at the reef and was discovered to be carrying hundreds of dead pangolins.

On Jan. 17, the US Navy minesweeper USS Guardian also ran aground at the reef and was removed only after a month. (John Roson)

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Navy troops rescued 11 Vietnamese nationals whose boat suffered engine trouble while fishing in the West Philippine Sea, just a few miles off Palawan, the Navy said Monday.

Troops on the BRP Ismael Lomibao sighted the foreigners’ fishing vessel QNG 90207 TS some 10 nautical miles east of Bugsuk Island, Balabac, Palawan, and towed it to shore 7 a.m. Sunday, Navy spokesman Col. Omar Tonsay said.

The Vietnamese crew have undergone medical checks at the Balabac Health Center and all were found to be safe and sound, he said.

Investigation showed that the fishing boat came from Quay Ngai, Vietnam. The crew were said to be fishing some 1,500 yards west off the Discovery Great Reef when the boat’s engine conked out on Nov. 6.

“No contraband was found onboard,” Tonsay said, citing information from Coast Guard personnel who boarded the vessel.

The Vietnamese crew is now asking their embassy to have the vessel repaired and will depart upon completion, he said. (John Roson)

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