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Spratly Islands military occupations map
Thitu Island / Pagasa Island (Tagalog: Pagasa, literally "hope"; simplified Chinese: 中业岛; traditional Chinese: 中業島; pinyin: Zhōngyè Dǎo; Vietnamese: Đảo Thị Tứ; Pangasinan: Ilalo), having an area of 37.2 hectares is the second largest of the Spratly Islands and the largest of Philippine-occupied Spratly Islands. It lies about 480 kilometres (300 mi) west of Puerto Princesa City.
Chinese fishermen historically called the island Tie Zhi (铁峙), sometime misrefered as "Tiezhi Island" (铁峙岛 Tiezhi Dao); however, Tiezhi Reef (铁峙礁) refers to another rock in South China Sea, 7.5 km northeast of this island. The modern Chinese name of the island was taken from the one of the battleships, named Chung-yeh (Chinese: 中業號; pinyin: Zhongye Hao), sent by the Chinese government during the Republic of China era to regain control of the island in 1946. A tiny joss house built by Chinese during the Qing Dynasty still stands in the middle of the island.
From 1930 to 1933, French colonial government in French Indochina sent naval troops to Spratlys, including Thitu Island. On 21 December 1933, Gouverneur M. J. Krautheimer in Cochinchina (now Vietnam) decided to annex the Spratlys to Bà Rịa Province.
Chinese texts of the 12th century record these islands being a part of the Ming dynasty and that they were used earlier (206 BC) as fishing grounds during the Han Dynasty. There are records of the island having been inhabited, at various times in history, by Chinese and Vietnamese fishermen, and during the second world war, French Indochina and Imperial Japanese troops. However, there were no large settlements on these islands till 1956, when a Filipino lawyer / businessman / adventurer Tomas Cloma decided to " claim" a part of Spratly islands as his own, naming it the " Free Territory of Freedomland".
In 1970–1971, Philippines sent troops to occupy Thitu Island and some others in Spratlys.
The island was occupied by the Philippines since the 1970s after the government purchased the whole Free Territory of Freedomland from Tomás Cloma for 1 peso. Being one of the largest islands in the Spratlys, just after Taiwan occupied Itu Aba (Tai Ping) Island(46 hectares) in 1946, it is tightly protected by the Philippine forces. The island's beaches have unused concrete bunkers which were built in the 1970s, a few years after the Philippine military base was established and a few unused rusted tanks. Two-thirds of the Philippine military stationed in Philippine-occupied islands (or, 40 out of 60 soldiers) are assigned to the island. It has a 1,400-metre (1,500 yd) unconcretized airstrip called Rancudo Airfield, which serves both military and commercial air transportation needs. It was the only airstrip in the whole Spratly chain that can accommodate large aircraft, such as Philippine Air Force's (PAF) C-130 cargo planes, until the ROC constructed an airstrip on Itu Aba in 2007. PAF regularly sends fighter jets from Palawan to make reconnaissance missions in Philippine-controlled regions in the Spratly chain. The presence of an airstrip in the island makes such reconnaissance missions easier. In August 2009, the Philippine Navy renamed Naval Station Pag-Asa in the Kalayaan Islands in the province of Palawan as Naval Station Emilio Liwanag as one of several bases, facilities, and stations renamed thru-out the country. This commemorates its naval history by honoring several naval officers who served with distinction, who fought for the protection of the country's sovereignty, territorial integrity, democracy, and the maritime interests of the country.
In January 2014, the media reported ambitions of China to reclaim the island as its own.
The island serves as a town proper to the Municipality of Kalayaan. Only this island among all Philippine-occupied Spratly islands is currently inhabited by civilian Filipinos. The civilian population, about 300 which includes children, was introduced in 2001. However, less than 200 civilian Filipinos are present in the island at a time. They live in a few dozen houses, linked with sandy paths.
It is the only Philippine-occupied island in the Spratlys to have a significant number of structures, including a municipal hall, multi-purpose hall, health center, school, water-filtration plant, engineering building, marina, communication tower, and military barracks. The residents raise pigs, goats, and chickens and plant crops in an alloted space to supplement their supplies of goods provided by a naval vessel which visits once a month. By day, the residents get electricity from a power generator owned by the municipality. By night, they shift to stored solar power that comes from 1.5V solar panels installed in the island. The houses do not have running water - water is used from tanks in front of each house.
There are numerous plans for the island. One of the plans, proposed by the Philippine Navy since 1999, is to create a long causeway that leads all the way to a deep water region. The island is completely surrounded by its expansive shallow coral base. This caused the Philippine Navy's BRP Lanao del Norte (LT-504), to run aground during a failed attempt to dock near the island in 2004. The damaged ship currently remains at the site of the wreck. Additionally, the Philippine Navy has proposed a naval base be built on the island, specifically for the purposes of training the Philippine Navy's elite Special Warfare Group or Navy Seals.
In contrast, the municipality proposes that the island be developed for tourism. The island has a white sand coastline, is filled with trees, and is a sanctuary of several species of sea birds. Its wide coral base makes for good diving.
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