Senate bill seeks to declare Pag-asa Island a ‘special eco-tourism zone’

The island of Pag-Asa, seen from a naval Islander plane en route between Pag-asa, known internationally as Thitu, and Puerto Princesa, Palawan, over the South China Sea on August 15, 2013. (Photo by Ashley Gilbertson / VII Photo)

A bill supporting the Kalayaan town’s bid to make its island barangay Pag-asa (Thitu Island) a “special eco-tourism zone” was recently filed at the Senate.

Senator Juan Edgardo has filed Senate Bill 2938 to help promote and develop the said barangay in the disputed region as a tourist destination while protecting its natural resources, reported Philippine Star on November 3.

“With its impeccable beauty, the island is an ideal tourist destination. The rich biodiversity and Filipino heritage of the island truly reflects the beauty of a paradise that our country should be proud of,” Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara said in his bill.

Pag-asa Island, located 480 kilometers off southwestern Palawan, is the second largest island in the Kalayaan Island Group (Spratlys) in the West Philippine Sea, and is the only island in the Spratlys that is ccupied by the Philippines.

Making the far-flung town as a zone for tourism and marine fisheries development has long been a plan of Kalayaan Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon Jr. In fact, the local government there has already laid out its tourism development plan to lure tourists from across the globe.

It plans to offer a tour package that will include island hopping in Patag, Lawak, Likas, Pag-asa, Panata and Ayungin shoals, and also to open a pasalubong center in Pag-asa Island.

Once enacted, a Pag-asa Island Ecotourism Cluster Governing Board will be created to rationalize all efforts concerning environmental protection and tourism industry promotion.

The board will be headed by the provincial governor as chairman, followed by Palawan first district congressman as co-chairman, the Environment regional executive director for Region 4-B as vice chairman, and Tourism regional director for Region 4-B as co-vice chairman.

Members of the board can be the Kalayaan town mayor, Pag-asa barangay chairperson, Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command chief, a member of a non-government organization advocating environmental preservation, a member of the academe, a representative of the business sector, and a representative of the private sector.

“The Board, in coordination with the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA), is mandated to prepare, develop and implement an ecotourism master plan to ensure environment and ecosystem protection and preservation, and to promote tourism and job generation to boost the economy of Kalayaan,” the Philippine Star quoted Angara as saying.

SB 2938 also seeks to declare the islands of Parola, Kota and Panata as protected areas under the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS).

Opening the island as a special eco-tourism zone is seen to show what more Palawan can offer, aside from its famous Coron and El Nido towns that made the island province to secure Conde Nast Traveler magazine’s “World’s Best Island” in its Readers’ Choice Awards in 2014 and 2015.

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