(PN photo)

Lawak Island, a critical sanctuary for three endangered bird species, will now be under the stewardship and management of the local government unit of the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG).

This development followed the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Staff (PCSDS) on Friday, April 5.

Lawak Island, situated 300 kilometers away from mainland Palawan in the West Philippine Sea, was declared by the PCSD as a critical habitat in September 2022.

The island was known as a bird sanctuary, hosting a number of migratory birds such as sooty terns, and great crested terns listed as vulnerable under the Philippine Red List of Threatened Fauna.

The management of Lawak Island is turned over to the representatives of the Kalayaan LGU in a MOA signing this April 5.

Governor Dennis Socrates, acting in his capacity as the PCSD chairperson, noted that the MOA was the first of a series of intervention efforts done by the provincial government in establishing sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea.

“PGP ang gagawa ng port na landingan ng mga turista. Hindi naman malaki. We will make sure that the construction of the port (…) will not disturb the species on the island,” Socrates said.

Sustainable tourism in the KIG has been a well-researched topic in the past few years by different sectors in Palawan. The unique marine habitat of the West Philippine Sea is a contested territory due to the area serving as a great seafood resource for the neighboring Southeast Asian countries.

Sustainable tourism efforts done through the help and development of multiple sectors would raise awareness and funds for the area, a sentiment echoed by Mar Guidote, the acting Chief of Party for the USAID-Sibol.

“Pag sinearch natin [ang Lawak Island] sa Google, walang laman. Tayo pa lang sa kwarto na ito ang nakakaalam na critical habitat ang Lawak Island,” Guidote said.

“May mga NGOs and LGUs na may dala silang sariling pondo dito sa management plan. Ang nilalaman nito ay balance ng socio-ecological, economic, and even military interest in general. Maganda ang plano ng bawat sector, pero kailangan po ng balanse, baka hindi lahat ay matupad,” Guidote added.

Socrates also added that a school building and covered court was in the works as one of the buildings the provincial government planned to improve and construct on Pag-Asa, the main island in KIG in partnership with the Department of Education (DepEd Palawan), sourced from the Special Education Funds.

The LGU in KIG also filed a local ordinance in 2023 under Resolution 047-015, strengthening the PCSD’s declaration of the island as a critical habitat under PCSD Resolution No. 22-827.

The MOA was signed in April 5 in Best Western Ivywall Hotel by the Beltzasar Alindogan and Roberto Del Mundo, respectively the municipal Vice Mayor and Mayor of Kalayaan, Socrates, Niño Rey Estoya, PCSDS Deputy Executive Director, and Ma. Vivian Soriano, senior ecosystem management specialist for the DENR-CENRO.

Present during the signing were representatives from the Kalayaan LGU, the Kalayaan Municipal Police Station, Environmental Critical Areas Network (ECAN), Western Philippines University, Palawan State University, the Armed Forces of the Philippines – Western Command, and the Coast Guard District of Palawan.