MANILA – Amid the ongoing territorial row with China, a lawmaker on Tuesday asked the Department of Tourism (DOT) to develop the disputed Spratly Islands into a Philippine tourist spot.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez made this suggestion during plenary debates on the proposed budget of the DOT for next year.
“Let’s take a slice of the DOT budget to put up a good airport and build a good port. Put up a hotel, and develop our frontier in our area as a tourist destination. The seas there are very pristine,” the lawmaker said.
GMA News reported on its website that Rodriguez said the Philippines should allow its domestic and foreign tourists to access these disputed islands since these areas are part of the country’s territory. He added that turning these islands into tourist spots will strengthen the Philippines’ claim to these territories.
“Hindi ba, you’ve read in the papers, all the way from China, ginagawang tourist destination ito ng mga Chinese? Tayo malapit lang, e ‘di gawin din nating tourist destination. Huwag tayong magpapatalo roon,” he said.
Chinese state media reported over the weekend that the southern Chinese province of Hainan is planning to include the disputed Spratly Islands as part of a cruise route, according to the network.
The Spratly Islands is a string of atolls and islands straddling vital shipping lanes in the West Philippine Sea (also called South China Sea) believed to be sitting atop vast mineral deposits. It is being claimed in whole or in part by China, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez, however, said he wants President Benigno Aquino III’s clearance first before marketing Spratlys as a Philippine tourist destination, GMA News reported.
“The area in question is now under direct control of the President of the Philippines. We will take our cue from him… Mag-swimming ka lang dun kailangang magpaalam, ganun kaselan ang lugar na iyon,” Jimenez told reporters on the sidelines of the plenary debates.
He added that there are still no plans from the DOT to develop the disputed islands as a tourist spot.
But Rodriguez remained insistent.
He said that he is willing to give P1 million from his priority development assistance fund (PDAF)—commonly known as the “pork barrel”—to help build structures for tourists on Spratly Islands.
He added that he plans to directly write President Aquino to convey his proposal to turn Spratly Islands into a Philippine tourist destination.