In a dramatic display of strategic naiveté, the Philippines decided (early-October) to suspend the repair and upgrade of its age-old airstrip on the Spratly island of Thitu (Pagasa to the Filipinos), among the biggest and most prized land features in the South China Sea, which can generate its own 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The airstrip is critical to the Armed Forces of Philippines’ (AFP) ability to project power and defend its maritime claims beyond its immediate territorial waters.
For years, the Philippines has not fielded even a single modern fighter aircraft; South Korea is expected to deliver twelve FA 50 lead-in fighter jets (worth $415.7 million) in the coming years, while the Philippine Navy has gradually beefed up its miniscule, antiquated fleet. Thanks to the strategic foresight of the late Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos (1966-1986), who recognized the importance of establishing permanent, defensible structures over contested features in the South China Sea, the Philippines has managed to exercise effective and continuous sovereignty over the island, which hosts a permanent civilian community and boasts its own mayor. But the advantage has been slipping away.