MANILA, Philippines - Students at the Pag-asa Elementary School in the Spratlys are visibly happy.
This is the is the first time a school has been built on the island, after more than 3 decades of the Filipino community's presence there.
For now, there are 5 students in kindergarten and only one teacher.
However, residents are still grateful for the school.
"Thirty-four years walang school sa Kalayaan kaya suportado ng mga tao matagal nang clamor," said town Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon Jr.
Pag-asa is one of the islands in the Kalayaan group of islands located west of Palawan.
It is part of the Spratlys which are being claimed by several Asian countries including China and the Philippines.
This is why China opposed the school's construction, saying it violates their sovereignty.
Beijing said the Philippines should avoid any action that would affect peace in the West Philippine Sea.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines' (AFP) Western Command has vowed to ensure the safety of those living on Pag-Asa Island.
"Sinisiguro nilang mabantayan ang kaligtasan ng mga nakatira sa munisipyo ng Kalayaan, partikular na sa isla ng Pag-asa," said AFP Wescom spokesperson Major Neil Estrella.
The Department of Foreign Affairs has asserted that the Filipino community has been living for long time on the island, and the school is among many structures that were built there.
Presidential spokespesron Edwin Lacierda also pointed out on Wednesday that Pag-asa Island has long been under the jurisdiction of Palawan.
"The municipality has been there. It has never been questioned. It has been under the province of Palawan since the time of Marcos, I think. So that should never be an issue," Lacierda said.
"Siguro pangit naman tignan na municipality natin 'yun, [mga] Pilipino nandoon -- aangal lang ang bansang China -- huwag itayo ang eskwela. Pero meron tayong isang komunidad doon na dapat natin bigyan ng tulong," he added.
"I think it is irresponsibility on our part if we do not provide services to our Fellow filipinos in that part municipality," Lacierda said. "This should not be seen as aggravating the situation."
So far, no formal protest has been filed by China, but the DFA is optimistic the dispute won't end in chaos or violence. - ANC