Bringing hope to Pag-asa Island

Kim Arveen Patria
Kim Arveen Patria
Good Vibes
This file photo taken on July 20, 2011 shows an aerial view of Thitu island, part of the disputed Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea. A handful of marines living on a World War II-era ship that is grounded on a remote, tiny reef is the Philippines' last line of defence against China's efforts to control most of the South China Sea

It is said that when elephants dance, ants should get out of the way. For Filipinos in the disputed Pag-asa Island, however, there’s no choice but to get caught in the crossfire.

As the Philippines and China dance to the tune of tense rhetoric and military threats, some 80 Filipinos living in the island west of Puerto Princesa City watch helplessly.

That is why a group of volunteers is rallying help online for poor families now living in the island. The goal, the group said, is to keep them nourished, educated and patriotic.

“The government has filed a memorial against China, but pending that, the only way to take hold of the disputed islands is to occupy them,” activist Carlos Celdran said.

Around 300 Filipinos, most of them poor and jobless, are scattered around the disputed Spratly Group of Islands, which Manila now calls Kalayaan—the Freedomland.

“Many of these people are informal settlers literally pulled out of Puerto Princesa City and relocated to the remote islands which needed to be occupied,” Celdran noted.

Less than a hundred of them live in Pag-asa Island, which is a municipality and therefore the only area in Kalayaan where Philippine government actually exists.

“Of those living in Pag-asa, 30 are children who barely have enough to eat and have no access to education or even proper textbooks,” Celdran told Yahoo Philippines.

On April 20, Celdran and his friends launched It’s No Fun in Pag-asa, a Facebook page aimed at helping residents of the island which they called the Philippines’ 7,107th.

The effort, Celdran said, is in response Kalayaan Town Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon’s appeal to help Filipinos in Pag-asa “live healthy, safe and sustainable lives.”

In a letter sent to Celdran’s group, Bito-onon listed his people’s needs, ranging from simple utensils such as frying pans to livelihood equipment such as those for fish processing.

The group has sent a first batch of goods to Pag-asa. It included 20 school textbooks per grade level for the children in the area, as well as some other items in the mayor’s list.

An online donation page has also been launched for those who wish to support the effort. The group is shipping collected goods and cash to Pag-asa island in June.

“Living in Pag-asa is no fun so we salute the people who agreed to be relocated there, but we have to improve the sustainability of their lives,” Celdran said.

Those who wish to help Project Freedomland may like the Facebook page It's No Fun in Pag-asa or visit their online donation drive page.