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Thitu Island

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Title: Thitu Island  
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Subject: Spratly Islands, Sand Cay, Northeast Cay, Subi Reef, Loaita Island
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Thitu Island

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 naturally occurring[1] Spratly Islands and the largest of the Philippine-administered naturally occurring Spratly Islands. It lies about 480 kilometres (300 mi) west of Puerto Princesa City. Its neighbours are the North Danger Reef to the north, Subi Reef to the west, and the Loaita and Tizard Banks to the south.

Though administered as part of Kalayaan, Palawan, 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). It is sometimes misrefered to as "Tiezhi Island" (铁峙岛 Tiezhi Dao) – Tiezhi Reef (铁峙礁) refers to another area 7.5 km northeast of this island.[2] 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.[3][4]

From 1930 to 1933, the French colonial government in French Indochina sent naval troops to the 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.[5]

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.[6] There are historical records of the island having been inhabited at various times by Chinese and Vietnamese fishermen, and during the second world war, by French Indochina and Imperial Japanese troops.[7][8][9] However, there were no large settlements on the island until 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".[10]

The Philippines formally established the Municipality of Kalayaan on the island on June 11, 1978, by virtue of Presidential Decree 1596 series of 1978.[11]


Pagasa island is low lying with trees, shrubs and sand bars. It is surrounded by coral reefs populated with rusting wrecks visible above water.[12]


The island has been occupied by the Philippines since the 1970s, after the government purchased the whole of the Free Territory of Freedomland from Tomás Cloma for 1 peso.[13] Being the second largest of the Spratly Islands,[14] 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.[12] 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) unpaved airstrip called Rancudo Airfield, which serves both military and commercial air transportation needs.[15] PAF regularly sends fighter jets from Palawan to make reconnaissance missions in Philippine-controlled regions in the Spratly chain. The presence of an airstrip on the island makes such reconnaissance missions easier.[16]

In August 2009, the Philippine Navy renamed Naval Station Pag-Asa as Naval Station Emilio Liwanag (after retired navy captain, Emilio Liwanag) as one of several bases, facilities, and stations renamed throughout the country.

In January 2014, the Chinese media reported the ambitions of China to reclaim the island as its own.[17]

In June 2014, the Philippine government announced plans to repair the 1.3 km unpaved Rancudo airstrip using U.S. government aid.[18]


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.[19] However, fewer than 200 civilian Filipinos are present in the island at a time. They live in a few dozen houses, linked with sandy paths.[12]

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.[20] The residents raise pigs, goats, and chickens and plant crops in an allotted 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 on the island. The houses do not have running water - water is used from tanks in front of each house.[12]

Future Plans

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.[15] 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.

See also


  1. ^ Note that in 2014 the PRC embarked on a number of reclamation projects in the Spratly Islands. It appears that the largest of these, at Fiery Cross Reef is of at least 60 hectares, and according to some unverifiable sources, possibly as large as 150 ha.
  2. ^
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b c d
  13. ^ Historical Background,
  14. ^ The largest of the Spratly Islands is the Taiwanese occupied since 1946 Itu Aba (Tai Ping) Island (46 hectares).

  15. ^ a b
  16. ^ Gomez, Jim, Associated Press, "On disputed Spratly isle, boredom is main concern", Yahoo! News, 22 July 2011.
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ Glionna, John M. (26 July 2009), "Squatters in paradise say it's job from hell", Los Angeles Times, Retrieved 2010-09-06.
  20. ^

External links

  • Satellite image of Thitu Island on Google Maps
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