President Duterte led the inauguration of the Philippine Ports Authority expansion project in Puerto Princesa City. (Screengrab from RTVM Facebook page live)

President Rodrigo Duterte has underscored Palawan’s key role in the country’s tourism and economic markets, citing the completion of ports in several towns and the expansion of the Puerto Princesa seaport.

President Duterte, who led the inauguration Thursday of the completed Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) and Department of Transportation (DOTr) seaport expansion project in the city, said the infrastructure is a welcome development as the country continues to “overcome and recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic” on the economy.

“It is indeed a significant milestone under our Build Build Build program. I am excited to see the outcome of this new infrastructure, which is envisioned to push growth in Palawan and nearby areas,” he said, adding the expanded seaport will accommodate increased vessel traffic, facilitate efficient handling of cargoes, and enhance its other activities.

He added that it “will boost the main gateway port of the island and reinforce its role in expanding transportation, and connectivity-enhancing tourism and economic activities in the province as well as in other parts of the country”.

The seaport development project is one of 472 commercial and social tourism projects completed by the DOTr and the PPA nationally since 2016.

Improving connectivity with BIMP-EAGA
It was upgraded to improve the long-haul link to Metro Manila and projected connections to Mindoro through the Port of Bulalacao, serving as Palawan’s principal maritime gateway for business, trade, and tourism said DOTr Sec. Art Tugade during the inauguration event.

It will also improve the connectivity with the Brunei Darussalam–Indonesia–Malaysia–Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area through the Buliluyan Port in Bataraza.

He said in Palawan, 14 port development projects had been accomplished by the Duterte administration.

“Andyan po yong seaport dito sa Puerto Princesa, Bataraza, Borac [in Coron], San Fernando [in El Nido], and Culion,” Tugade said.

Tugade said the three ports recently opened in Palawan did not only enhance the connectivity in Mindoro, Visayas, and Mindanao but with the BIMP-EAGA.

“Nagkaroon ng connection sa lokal, nagkaroon din ng connection sa international. Never before has this reality been born and begotten,” Tugade said.

He also cited that for furthering connectivity, airports were completed in the province under the president’s administration: Puerto Princesa International Airport, and airports in Busuanga, Cuyo, and San Vicente.

PPA projects in Palawan
PPA general manager Jay Daniel Santiago in a statement released earlier said the expansion project will double the existing traffic capacity of the seaport that has an average annual 1.7 million metric tons of cargo; 1,500 vessel calls, and 200,000 passengers.

The expanded project includes the construction of a backup area, excavation of existing seabed, supply and installation of rubber-dock fenders, as well as supply and installation of bollards.

“The Puerto Princesa Port has played and continues to play a vital role for the continued growth of the province of Palawan in terms of tourism and commerce. The port has seen how Puerto Princesa and the rest of Palawan transformed from its earlier reputation as a penal and leper Colony as well as malaria and piracy hotspot in the Philippines,” Santiago explained.

“We can really say that the port has grown with the region. That is why it is only fitting that we expand the port and through connectivity and mobility, continue to bring in the growth that the Province of Palawan deserves,” he added.

Before the most recent development, the port also underwent a prior expansion for the left wing of the terminal which was completed in 2016.

PPA also said that with the completion of the latest expansion, Puerto Princesa City is now ready to respond to the demands from local and international trade, and adjust to the requirements of the international cruise-tourism industry under the new normal.

Before the seaport inauguration, the expansion of the Port of Coron was also implemented to address the demands for cruise tourism as well as the burgeoning cargo volume due to the increasing demand in its supply chain brought about by the increasing foreign and local tourist arrivals.

Currently, the PPA is completing Coron’s Port Operations Building to further improve the transaction and traveling experience in the tow. A new cargo transit shed at the Culion port had also been completed, which is expected to reduce cargo spillage at the port.

PPA expects that as COVID-19 restrictions continue to ease, the number of travelers to and from the region will pick up and eventually return to pre-pandemic levels.

“With the leadership of the president and through the continued guidance of DOTr Secretary Art Tugade, PPA has continuously focused on the development of the port system of the province of Palawan through the implementation of these important projects during the last 5 years,” Santiago said.

PCG Kalayaan Station unveiling
At the event at the Port of Puerto Princesa in Barangay Matiyaga, Duterte also led the unveiling of the station marker of the PCG Kalayaan Station located on Pag-asa Island, Kalayaan town in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

The newly built station on Pag-asa Island, which is equipped with an upgraded radar system, will assist in maintaining the living conditions of PCG personnel defending the country’s maritime boundaries and would broaden monitoring coverage.

PCG spokesperson Commodore Armand Balilo said in an interview with the media that they’ve been longing for a better station in the disputed area with credible equipment as it is the operational hub of their activities.

“Hindi lang ito sa maritime security kundi sa maritime safety. Not necessarily ito doon sa encroachment, pero ito ay sa command and control — magiging madali yong communication namin with the ships na nandoon sa WPS,” he said.

Balilo said they plan to further upgrade the radar system for wider coverage of the WPS. Later on, substations may also be constructed on other Philippine-claimed islands.

“Siguro later on kasi may station na, ang natural na magiging course nyan maglagay ng mga substations — dumami na rin ang Coast Guard, from 7,000 six years ago ay 21,000 na kami ngayon, malalagyan na namin ng mga tao yong mga isla pakonti-konti,” he said.

He said the station will also take care of the fishermen who venture to the WPS to fish. “Kailangan din kasing i-monitor yong ginagawa nila at kung ano yong kalagayan nila, at kung nasa panganib ay makapag-responde tayo ng mabilis,” he said.

Duterte expressed optimism that the PCG can now engage in search and rescue missions, maritime patrol and surveillance, air ambulance utility roles, and other mandated duties to help the Filipino people during challenging times.

“We also look into fortifying our maritime security in the area. I am glad to know that the Philippine Coast Guard continues to be geared towards expanded presence in the West Philippine Sea and the Kalayaan Island Group to safeguard Filipino fishermen who venture into the sea for their daily livelihood,” he said.

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has been with Palawan News since January 2019. She is its managing editor, overseeing and coordinating day-to-day editorial activities. Her writing interests are politics and governance, health, defense, investigative journalism, civic journalism, and the environment.