In the year 2000, the Pag-asa Island Research Station (PIRS) was inaugurated and set to be the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute’s (UP-MSI) base in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

The station was established through a grant from the Department of the Science and Technology (DOST)-Philippine Council for Aquatic and Marine Research and Development (PCAMRD). The Western Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (WESCOM) also aided in the development of the structure.

However, due to lack of funding, no researchers from UP-MSI were able to man the station shortly after the inauguration. The structure was then utilized as a barracks facility by members of the Philippine Navy (PN), specifically by their divers called “frogmen.”

UP-MSI researchers at sea. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Fernando Siringan)

Finally in 2019, the National Security Council (NSC) allocated a budget for the refurbishment of the facility.

Dr. Fernando Siringan, UP-MSI scientist and project leader for the Initial Repair and Refurbishment of the Pag-asa Station (iRARE Pag-asa), told Palawan News in an interview on Wednesday that the refurbishment was moved to 2021 due to the pandemic. The iRARE team visited the site in April this year, and have since completed their tasks this October.

“Ang naging struggle talaga namin ay kung walang support, hindi talaga mapupuntahan ang station. Sa M/V Panata pa lang, it took two and a half days of travel from Manila Bay to Pag-asa Island,” Siringan said.

Siringan stated that the team spent their days cleaning and repairing the facility, waterproofing, installing solar power system, a water system, a GSAT for Internet connection, and the lighting for the structure. The team also installed an automated identification system (AIS) to identify passing boats.

“Bottomline is, functional na siya. Kulang na lang doon ay furniture,” he said.

Future research not just for Pag-asa, but for other island communities

The story of the PIRS does not stop there. According to Siringan, they still have to secure additional funding so a research team can stay in Pag-asa Island for a prolonged period. The UP-MSI is aiming to hire four researchers, preferably two from Palawan, and one maintenance staff to man the facility.

“We are currently looking for researchers who will be assigned hopefully by late January or February 2022. Depending on the funding, we will be hiring two to four researchers. Gusto rin sana namin, may taga-Palawan din. At isang maintenance personnel, na hopefully taga Pag-asa rin,” Siringan explained.

“We already applied for the funding, and we are also looking into making the budget a permanent part of UP’s budget, para kahit magpalit ng administrasyon, tuloy-tuloy ito,” he added.

Siringan explained that their research objectives include studying the area’s groundwater supply. The team also wishes to study the marine resources in general and those that can be viable for commercial purposes, such as sea cucumbers and other high-value products amenable for in aquaculture particulare.

He said they also intend to explore the agricultural possibilities in the area, because this will help strengthen the locals’ food supply. They will also work on the rehabilitation of the coral reef of the island.

“This is not just limited to Pag-asa Island. We are hoping that whatever we can find there, we can also replicate these in other island communities all over the country,” said Siringan.

The UP-MSI is hoping for more support from the national government. According to Siringan, they continue to work with other agencies, such as WESCOM, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), and the National Security Council to reach their research objectives, especially amidst the geopolitical turmoil in the WPS.

“Being able to do the type of research we want in the area is an assertion of our sovereignty,” he said.

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is a senior reporter for Palawan News who covers politics, education, environment, tourism, and human interest stories. She loves watching Netflix, reading literary fiction, and listens to serial fiction podcasts. Her favorite color is blue.