Pagasa (Island)

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Thitu Island
Disputed island
Thitu Island & Reefs, Spratly Islands.png
Thitu Island
Position of Thitu Island
Position of Thitu Island
Location South China Sea
Coordinates 11°18′N 114°10′E / 11.3°N 114.17°E / 11.3; 114.17 (Thitu Island)Coordinates: 11°18′N 114°10′E / 11.3°N 114.17°E / 11.3; 114.17 (Thitu Island)
Archipelago Spratly Islands
Administered by
Municipality Kalayaan, Palawan
Claimed by
 People's Republic of China
 Republic of China (Taiwan)

Pagasa (Thitu) 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.

Though occupied by Philippines, it is also claimed by the People's Republic of China, the Republic of China (Taiwan) and Vietnam.


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.[citation needed] 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.[1][2] A tiny joss house built by Chinese during the Qing Dynasty still stands in the middle of the island.[citation needed]

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.[3]

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.[4] 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.[5][6][7] 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".[8]

In 1970–1971, Philippines sent troops to occupy Thitu Island and some others in Spratlys.[9]


Pagasa island is a low lying island, with trees, shrubs, sand bars, and surrounded by coral reefs populated with rusting wrecks visible above water.[10]


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.[11] Being one of the largest islands in the Spratlys, just after Taiwan occupied Itu Aba (Tai Ping) Island(46 hectares) in 1946,[12][13] 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.[10] 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 1,300-metre (1,400 yd) unconcretized airstrip called Rancudo Airfield, which serves both military and commercial air transportation needs.[14] 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.[15] 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 Chinese media reported ambitions of China to reclaim the island as its own.[16]

In June 2014, the Philippine government declared plans to repair the existing 1.3 kilometer unconcretised Rancudo air strip on Pagasa (Thitu) island, with U.S. government aid.[17]


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.[18] 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.[10]

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.[19] 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.[10]

Future Plans[edit]

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.[14] 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[citation needed]. 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.


  1. ^ 吕一燃 (Lu Yiran), 2007. 中国近代边界史 (A modern history of China's borders), Vol. 2. 四川人民出版社 (Sichuan People's Publishing), pp.1092-1093. ISBN 7220073313
  2. ^ Palatino, Raymond. "The Spratlys and the Philippine claim". Retrieved 2014-06-26. 
  3. ^ [1][dead link]
  4. ^ "A List of books on the history of Spratly islands". Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  5. ^ "Timeline". History of the Spratlys. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  6. ^ Chemillier-Gendreau, Monique (2000). Sovereignty Over the Paracel and Spratly Islands. Kluwer Law International. ISBN 9041113819. 
  7. ^ China Sea pilot, Volume 1 (8th Edition). Taunton: UKHO - United Kingdom Hydrographic Office. 2010. 
  8. ^ "China and Philippines: The reasons why a battle for Zhongye (Pag-asa) Island seems unavoidable". China Daily Mail. 13 January 2014. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  9. ^ Tranh chấp Hoàng Sa, Trường Sa và luật pháp quốc tế (Kỳ cuối)
  10. ^ a b c d Campbell, Eric (20 May 2014). "Reef Madness". ABC News. Retrieved 23 May 2014. 
  11. ^ Historical Bakground
  12. ^ Spratly Islands. Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2008. Archived from the original on 31 October 2009. 
  13. ^ "回眸︰1946年國民政府收復南沙太平島始末". Retrieved 30 March 2012. [dead link]
  14. ^ a b Gupta, Vipin; Bernstein, Adam (May 1999). "Remote Monitoring in the South China Sea". Sandia National Laboratory. Retrieved 2008-02-16. [dead link]
  15. ^ Gomez, Jim, Associated Press, "On disputed Spratly isle, boredom is main concern", Yahoo! News, 22 July 2011.
  16. ^ "Chinese troops to seize Zhongye Island back from the Philippines in 2014". China Daily Mail. 11 January 2014. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  17. ^ "Airstrip repair on Pagasa island ‘a go’ despite China protest –PAF". GMA Network. 19 June 2014. Retrieved 19 June 2014. 
  18. ^ Glionna, John M. (26 July 2009), "Squatters in paradise say it's job from hell", Los Angeles Times, Retrieved 2010-09-06.
  19. ^ Abaricia, Aimee (16 July 2005). "The Trip To Kalayaan" (JPEG). The Philippine Star (Manila): B–6. Retrieved 2008-02-16. [dead link]

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