By Ernie Reyes
MANILA — Senator Richard J. Gordon hailed the conversion of the Pag-asa Elementary School located within the disputed Spratly Islands into an integrated school that would cater to both elementary and junior high school students.
Gordon said he was elated to learn that students residing in Pag-asa Island, which is part of Kalayaan, Palawan, will not need to travel to the Palawan mainland to enjoy their constitutionally mandated access to free education.
“The government’s move to establish Pag-asa Integrated Elementary and Junior High School for next school year ushers hope and relief to the young residents and the parents of Kalayaan island,” he said.
“Tulad ng pangalan ng kanilang isla, ito ay naghahatid ng mensahe ng tunay pag-asa sa mga batang mag-aaral dahil ito ay makakatulong sa pagtupad ng kanilang pangarap tungo sa isang pagiging mabuting mamamayang Pilipino,” he added.
At present, high school students residing in the 37-hectare island located 285 nautical miles west of the mainland Palawan island need to travel by sea or reside with relatives just to go to school.
The establishment of the junior high school significantly reduces risks involved during travel, including possible capsize of boats and harassment from foreign naval forces patrolling the region.
Pag-asa, or Thitu Island, is part of the nine-part Kalayaan Group of Islands under the sovereignty of the Philippine government.
It is within the disputed Spratly Island region where several countries, including the Philippines, China, Vietnam, and Malaysia, have laid claim part or the whole sea, including its various islands, sandbars and atolls.
Gordon, who chairs the Senate justice and human rights committee, underscored the importance of the school’s conversion for it bolsters the country’s outstanding claim of sovereignty over the Kalayaan region.
“Never can any foreign government claim that it hold dominion over Pag-asa.The upgrade of our educational facilities only tightens the grip of the nation’s tricolors in this tiny speck of land in the middle of the West Philippine Sea,” he added.
The Senator has constantly supported and asserted the Philippines’ claim overthe disputed region in various instances.
Recently, Gordon urged the next government leadership to champion a pro- Philippine stance over the disputed waters, a turnaround from the current diplomatic attitude favoring China.
“Ang ating mga senador, congressman, lahat ng tao, magkaisa at ipaglaban [ang ating karapatan]. Kung ‘di natin gagawin ‘yan, itutulak-tulak lang tayo [ng China],” he said.