In shadow of China's reef city, Philippines seeks upgrade for its island patriots | Reuters

By Ronn Bautista | THITU ISLAND, South China Sea THITU ISLAND, South China Sea If the Filipinos on the remote South China Sea island of Thitu had binoculars, they might just be envious of how their neighbours on the next island live.Just 15 miles (24 km) across the shimmering sea from this rundown outpost of the Philippines lies a different world shown by an unbroken line of new, four-storey white buildings. Radar towers and a lighthouse complete Subi Reef, a mini city China has raised from the sea at an astonishing pace since 2013.Subi symbolises China's increasingly assertive claim to most of the South China Sea, a claim it reinforces in building manmade islands from dredged sand and equipping them with runways, hangars and surface-to-air-missiles.For the 37 Filipino families who call Thitu their home, however, life is basic with just a few buildings, no television or internet, and no shops or street-side eateries.There isn't even a street, just a dirt track used by the island's one vehicle - a small truck.At only 37 hectares (0.37 sq km) the coral-fringed Thitu, known to Filipinos as Pagasa, is the biggest of the eight reefs, shoals and islands the Philippines occupies in the Spratly archipelago, 280 miles away from the mainland. But Thitu's inhabitants have a strategic purpose - preserving a Philippine claim of sovereignty in the face of a resurgent China

Reuters April 21, 2017 22:34:45 IST
In shadow of China's reef city, Philippines seeks upgrade for its island patriots
| Reuters

In shadow of Chinas reef city Philippines seeks upgrade for its island patriots
 Reuters

By Ronn Bautista
| THITU ISLAND, South China Sea

THITU ISLAND, South China Sea If the Filipinos on the remote South China Sea island of Thitu had binoculars, they might just be envious of how their neighbours on the next island live.Just 15 miles (24 km) across the shimmering sea from this rundown outpost of the Philippines lies a different world shown by an unbroken line of new, four-storey white buildings. Radar towers and a lighthouse complete Subi Reef, a mini city China has raised from the sea at an astonishing pace since 2013.Subi symbolises China's increasingly assertive claim to most of the South China Sea, a claim it reinforces in building manmade islands from dredged sand and equipping them with runways, hangars and surface-to-air-missiles.For the 37 Filipino families who call Thitu their home, however, life is basic with just a few buildings, no television or internet, and no shops or street-side eateries.There isn't even a street, just a dirt track used by the island's one vehicle - a small truck.At only 37 hectares (0.37 sq km) the coral-fringed Thitu, known to Filipinos as Pagasa, is the biggest of the eight reefs, shoals and islands the Philippines occupies in the Spratly archipelago, 280 miles away from the mainland. But Thitu's inhabitants have a strategic purpose - preserving a Philippine claim of sovereignty in the face of a resurgent China. According to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, China will soon be capable of deploying fighter jets on three reefs, including Subi.By comparison, Thitu's military muscle is a few dozen rotating troops with small arms, and a dirt runway through a patch of grass.Jenny May Ray, 24, has taught for one year at the island's school. She says Thitu's residents are heroes.

"We should be thankful for their sacrifices for staying on an island far away from civilisation, away from their loved ones and families and I hope some day, something can be written about them in our history," she said."Pagasa will see progress one day and they will not be forgotten because they have a big role in protecting the island."URGENT UPGRADES
But the islanders want more in return. Ray said the school needed improvements, the childrens' diets are poor, and they are short on books. The Philippine government is wary of China's ambitions and knows life needs to be better for the Filipinos who get free food and housing in exchange for maintaining the four-decade Philippine occupation.

Taiwan, Vietnam and Malaysia also have communities in the Spratlys, but they enjoy far better living standardsDefence minister Delfin Lorenzana visited Thitu with journalists aboard a C-130 plane on Friday to inspect sites earmarked for 1.6 billion pesos ($32.1 million) of development, including a small fishing port, a beaching ramp, desalination facilities, and runway repairs."You saw Subi Reef a while ago and we really lagged behind," he said."We are now the last. You saw Vietnam's (islands) when we passed by the area, it's already very built-up a long time ago. We should have done this before."Lorenzana and a planeload of day-tripping troops and airmen joined villagers for a ceremonial raising of the national flag, a staple of daily life in the Philippines' most isolated village, where patriotism comes before anything else.

Within an earshot is a school of just over 30 children. A teacher leads fifth-grade students in reciting songs about their pride in Thitu belonging to the Philippines.Change comes slowly on the island, in sharp contrast to China's activities. Since Reuters last visited Thitu two years ago, Subi Reef has transformed from a single building and cranes on an artificial sand bank to what looks look a forward operating base with its own town.China insists these islands are for defensive purposes and objects strongly to planes or boats that come near them.Lorenzana said his plane received a warning over the radio from Chinese on Subi as it approached Thitu.He described it as "procedural".Thitu islanders seem less concerned about China's military buildup than they do the storms that could delay the next boatload of supplies of food, or petrol needed for generators that support the tiny output from its few solar panels.For many islanders, boredom is the biggest problem.Daniel Yungot, an army private, says he plays a lot of basketball now."We entertain ourselves," he said. "We do anything just for the day to pass." (Additional reporting by Manuel Mogato in Manila; Writing by Martin Petty)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Updated Date:

TAGS:

also read

Greek police clash with protesters in rally against mandatory vaccinations
World

Greek police clash with protesters in rally against mandatory vaccinations

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek police used teargas and water cannon to disperse people who had gathered in central Athens on Saturday to protest against mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations. More than 4,000 people rallied outside the Greek parliament for a third time this month to oppose mandatory inoculations for some workers, such as healthcare and nursing staff.

Two Turkish soldiers killed in attack in northern Syria
World

Two Turkish soldiers killed in attack in northern Syria

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Two Turkish soldiers were killed and two were wounded in an attack on their armoured vehicle in northern Syria, and Turkish forces immediately launched retaliatory fire, Turkey's defence ministry said on Saturday. "Our punitive fire against terrorist positions is continuing," the statement on Twitter on said. It did not specify where the attack occurred, but media reports said it was in the al-Bab area.

Brazilians take to streets again to demand Bolsonaro's impeachment
World

Brazilians take to streets again to demand Bolsonaro's impeachment

By Marcelo Rochabrun SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Protesters took to the streets in several Brazilian cities on Saturday to demand the impeachment of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, whose popularity has fallen in recent weeks amid corruption scandals against the backdrop of the pandemic. This week, news broke that Brazil's defense ministry told congressional leadership that next year's elections would not take place without amending the country's electronic voting system to include a paper trail of each vote. Bolsonaro has suggested several times without evidence that the current system is prone to fraud, allegations that Brazil's government has denied