There are white sand beaches in the Philippines that are so pristine, so secluded that it's fit for the most stressed out public official in the country -- the Spratly Islands. President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday ribbed embattled Health Sec. Francisco Duque to take a few days off there.
Accessible only by military plane from Puerto Princesa City, the Spratlys or Kalayaan Island Group lies west of the mainland and is at the center of a long-running dispute between Manila and Beijing.
Pag-Asa (international name: Thitu) is the largest Filipino-occupied Island in the Spratly's with a civilian community. Elsewhere in the area, China has built fortresses on top of reefs and outcrops.
The COVID-19 quaratine has been effect nationwide for six months, eating up most of 2020, including summer. In Metro Manila, a white sand patch is being built along Manila Bay using crushed dolomite (a type of sedimentary rock) to provide lockdown-weary residents a simulated beach escape.
Travel between provinces and cities is currently restricted, but with the flattening of the curve within sight, meaning new cases are going down, people could soon start hitting the beach.
We visited Pag-Asa twice and saw for ourselves its idyllic charm. From the Air Force C-130, its a green and white dot in the middle of the deep blue expanse. At any given time, there are over a dozen people on the island, who are rotated in shifts. It's a self-sustaining community with electricity, running water, mobile signal and solar panels.
For now, here are more photos of Pag-Asa Island, the Philippines' stronghold in the Spratlys, with a white sand beach to rival Boracay.