The ribbon-cutting ceremony for "Kalayaan: Handog ng Kalikasan" took place on the 2nd floor of SM City Puerto Princesa this August 23rd.

The Fish Right program of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in partnership with the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) and the Kalayaan municipal government, inaugurated Wednesday the “Kalayaan Handog ng Kalikasan” exhibit on the second floor of SM City Puerto Princesa, marked by a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The virtual exhibit is part of the eco-tourism and marine awareness efforts for the municipality of Kalayaan.

The exhibit formally opened on August 23 to coincide with the start of National Fish Month. It showcased information standees featuring photos and graphics explaining the marine biodiversity, local culture, local livelihood, and other eco-tourism efforts undertaken by the PCSD and the USAID Fish Right program in the municipality.

Ryan Washburn, the Mission Director for USAID Philippines, Pacific, and Mongolia, expressed his enthusiasm for the local government’s initiative to promote eco-tourism in these islands.

The immersive exhibit is a one room light show, showcasing footage taken directly from last March 2023’s Great Kalayaan Expedition.

“For almost two years now I’ve been fortunate to see some of the natural wonders of the Philippines, although more importantly I’ve been able to meet people like you and learn about your untiring efforts to preserve the beauty and livelihood supported by the country’s bountiful natural resources,” said Washburn.

“It feels as if we’re also doing a virtual expedition of the Kalayaan Islands,” he added.

The highlight of the exhibit was the immersive virtual tour of the Kalayaan Group of Islands, in which groups of five to six people stand in a room filled with projections of footage taken this March, during the Great Kalayaan Expedition conducted by the USAID Fish Right program along with the local government office of Kalayaan and the Provincial Tourism Office.

USAID Fish Right Program Chief of Party Prof. Nygiel Armada proudly showed off their team’s work saying the Kalayaan immersive exhibit has been in development for several months now.

“It is wonderful to see our collaborative activity and hard work that all come together,” he said.

“Conservation and sustainable use of natural resources require an understanding of their values, and their threats. The people’s support and participation are based on such understanding, and through this we hope to raise the public awareness and to increase collective knowledge of KIG as a marine hotspot,” he added.

Kalayaan Municipal Vice Mayor Beltzasar Alindogan relayed his hopes on the exhibit strengthening Kalayaan Island Group as an eco-tourism destination.

“We hope that this will not be the last, and that they will continue. I want to witness someday that this exhibit will be reflected in other areas in the country para malaman nila na ang Kalayaan ay sa atin.”

All of the information displayed in the exhibit is in English and Filipino to accommodate the broader interests of the audience in the island town in the West Philippine Sea.

In attendance at the ceremony were Roberto Del Mundo, the Municipal Mayor of Kalayaan, Vice Mayor Beltzasar Alindogan, Dr. Romy Cabungcal, Provincial Agriculturist, Melissa Macasaet, the City Agriculturist, and Atty. Joselito Alisuag, the OIC President of Western Philippines University.

In his speech, Alindogan relayed his hopes that the exhibit would strengthen the Kalayaan Island Group as an eco-tourism destination.

“We hope that this will not be the last, and that they will continue. I look forward to the day when this exhibit will be done in other areas of the country, para malaman nila na ang Kalayaan ay sa atin,” he said.

The exhibit will remain open on the 2nd floor of SM City Puerto Princesa from August 23 to September 23, after which it will be moved to another mall.

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