First Public School raised the Philippines Flag in the Spratly Islands

The Philippine flag flies in the breeze as Kalayaan town Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon (center) poses with the teacher, schoolchildren and their parents at the opening of Pag-asa Elementary School on a disputed West Philippines Sea island on June 15. AP/OFFICE OF KALAYAAN MUNICIPAL MAYOR

Spratlys Public elementary School starts its regular classes in the Pagasa Island, Municipality of Kalayaan, Palawan, the territory of the Old Sultanate of Sulu back during the pre-colonial period. The Kalayaan Islands is also known as the disputed Spratlys archipelago after the other neighbors claimed it as their territory.

The old Sultanate of Sulu failed to regain its power to the entire territory and have turned over its rights to the Republic of the Philippines through Sultan Kiram in 1960's.

The weaken and deprived of power old kingdom was seen by the neighbors in doom resulting its claim to the territories under it. In spite of the turnover of the Sultan to the Republic of the Philippines, still neighbors claimed part of the territory as their owned.

Youth is the hope of our Mother land - Education must be given chance

Philippine government defend its opening of the first ever public school in the spratlys islands after china issued s warning against the operation of a public elementary school on Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs Wednesday (June 27, 2012)  asserted "the Kalayaan group of Islands, which include Pag-asa, is an integral part of Philippine territory as declared in Republic Act 9522 and other relevant Philippine laws."

The DFA cited Kalayaan Mayor Eugenio Bito-on for providing basic services to his constituents, including the establishment of a public kindergarten school.

Raul Hernandez, the DFA spokesman, pointed out "part of the responsibility of (Mayor Bito-on) is to govern his municipality, ensure the progress and development of his locality, and provide basic services to his constituents, including putting up a school for kids in his area of jurisdiction."

For its part, the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said China is "definitely in no position to be making such absurd demands on the Philippines."

Beijing "must respect Philippine sovereignty and refrain from making threats," said Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr.

"The area being claimed by China already has a Filipino community and has been under Philippine control, being part of the town of Kalayaan in Palawan province," Reyes added.

On Tuesday, Hong Lei, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, told a press briefing in Beijing that China "opposes any illegal activity that may infringe on China's claimed sovereignty in the old sultanate of Sulu"

Manila "should refrain from making any measures that will complicate and exacerbate the current situation and affect peace and stability in the South China Sea," Hong said.

He insisted that China had "indisputable sovereignty" over the Spratly chain of islands and its surrounding waters.

Hong expressed hope "relevant countries will abide by the spirit of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China," which was earlier entered into by Beijing and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

The Philippines and three other ASEAN member-states – Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei Darussalam – are among the Spratlys claimants, along with China and Taiwan.

Home to about 200 Filipinos, Pag-asa Island has been under the Philippine government's control since the 1970s, noted the DFA.

It has a town hall, a health center, an airstrip and a naval station, among other facilities.

Last week, the Kalayaan municipal government inaugurated the Pag-asa Elementary School, a school house built from an old multi-purpose hall using salvaged construction materials. The school held its first class on June 15, with only five kindergarten students. A Philippine flag fluttered in the breeze in the schoolyard.

The school hired one teacher from the mainland, getting her to agree to move her family to the island, which is about 285 nautical miles west of Palawan, or a boat trip that could exceed a full day, depending on the sea condition.

Mayor Bitoon earlier said "maybe in two months, we could open classes from Grade 1 to 3 if we can convince them to return to the island in time before the first grading period."

He said he was aware of the "problem of how children's schooling separated families. That's why; I thought it's high time for us to have a school house here."

Mayor Bito-on is requesting funding from the provincial government and the Department of Education to sustain the school's operation and build more classrooms in the future.

Patriotism in curriculum

Two party-list lawmakers on Wednesday also vowed to support the school, which used to be the old multipurpose hall in the area. The school has two new classrooms.

"Building a school within our territory cannot in any way undermine China's sovereignty… The Philippine government has all the right to make use of its own territory especially to provide social services to its people," Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello said in a statement.

Bello, who visited the disputed territory last year, said China cannot interfere with the Philippine government's duty to provide its citizens with education and infrastructure.

"It's already bad that China is infringing on our sovereignty with its unimpeded incursions. Now it is virtually telling us where we can and cannot implement infrastructure projects within our territory. It is absurd and boorish," he said.

ACT Teachers' party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio, for his part, pledged assistance to the school by sending teaching materials and school supplies to the area.

"This would be a tremendous help in advancing the education of the children in the disputed territory," he said in a separate statement.

He added that more students on the remote island, which lies 527 kilometers west of the Palawan mainland, can now have access to education. Most of the residents there are soldiers stationed on the island to protect the country's claim in the Spratlys.

"The families of students also would not have to be separated so that their children can go to school," he said.

Tinio likewise proposed that lessons on patriotism be included in the school's curriculum.

"The values of patriotism and love of country should be inculcated to the students considering that their homes and school stand in a contested area," he said.

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