PUERTO PRINCESA CITY — Although located in the disputed West Philippines Sea region, local government officials of the Kalayaan Island municipality are optimistic that they can successfully set up their tourism industry this year to bring economic growth to their constituents.
Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon said during the commemoration of the 39th EDSA People Power Revolution anniversary Wednesday that Governor Jose Alvarez has given them a budget of P2 million for the construction of the Kalayaan Resource Center in Barangay Berong, Quezon in southern Palawan in addition to the budget that they have allocated this year.
“Later on, when our tourism industry begins, everything will take off from Berong because from there, travel to Pag-Asa Island is direct,” Bito-onon said, furthering that construction of the center has now started.
As of the moment, Kalayaan has hired a tourism point person, who is taking care of developing package tour products and services for domestic and foreign travelers.
“We have a hired a staff, who is now taking care of identifying tourism product packages and services that we can promote… for batch or group that wants to come here — they can choose if they want to go by plane or by boat,” the mayor said, adding that traveling to Pag-Asa Island “by boat” will most likely the first thing they will do.
He disclosed that also this year, Kalayaan is set to buy a steel boat, and the P10 million for this will come from the Bottom-Up Budgeting (BUB) of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).
“We will buy maybe a small steel boat that is reliable, and this will at the same time be a hospital vessel, and can carry passengers to Kalayaan,” he said.
A program of work for lodging houses that can accommodate tourists is also now being prepared. But he did not elaborate.
“It is also okay to camp around here because it is safe on the island even during bad weather conditions,” he said.
On threats posed by the continued incursion of China into claimed territories by the country in the West Philippines Sea, the mayor very outspokenly said he no longer puts mind on them.
“I don’t take notice of them anymore. I don’t take notice of what they’re doing since for sure, no country would want to just threaten the lives of people… or kill them. Everyone wants every person in any country to live a normal life with good livelihood, and a peaceful world. I believe that one day, a solution will be found regarding this problem. While we’re still looking for a resolution, we need to prepare for the economic development of Kalayaan,” Bito-onon said.
He said also that as mayor, he is mandated to work for the development of their town for his constituents, and “developing Kalayaan’s tourism and fishing industries” are what he wants to do.
The design to eventually promote Kalayaan as a tourism destination is “backyard style,” according to Bito-onon.
“There is a group behind us… they are ham radio enthusiasts, and they are present in 120 countries, and they will put up a radio station here, and they plan to donate a repeater station from Puerto Princesa to Pag-Asa so, we will use handsets, and they will promote Pag-Asa to these countries. Every year, they will have an expedition for what they call is a technological competition,” he said.
The expedition means that ham radio enthusiasts will go to Kalayaan, and send out messages to the 120 countries for promotion like a contest on who can do this faster.
The ultimate dream, Bito-onon stated to the PNA, is to turn Pag-Asa Island into a bustling resort. He knows this will be hard, but with the right attitude, he believes that Kalayaan will attain the dream.
“Dreams don’t have timelines, only people have. Here there is an airport, there is a port; tourists can jump from island to island claimed by the Philippines, and we can develop some of our islands as resorts, but Pag-Asa will be the hub,” he added.
He stated sharply that Kalayaan is the territory of the Philippines, it is owned by the country, and as mayor, he has the responsibility to develop it for the residents.
”We have a vision for this place, and I am going to work it out whatever there is we can afford,” he said. Kalayaan has a budget of P58 million and 20% is their development fund, which is about P12 million. (PNA)