A measure declaring the Pag-asa Island and its adjoining islands of Parola, Kota and Panata in the municipality of Kalayaan, province of Palawan as ecotourism destinations has hurdled the House Committee on Tourism.
In a virtual meeting, the House panel, chaired by Laguna 3rd District Rep. Sol Aragones passed House Bill No. 5985, principally authored by Magdalo Para sa Pilipino partylist Rep. Manuel Cabochan III.
Cabochan’s bill is among the five measures seeking to declare islands, municipalities, and provinces in certain parts of the country as ecotourism zones, that were passed by the Aragones panel
“We filed these bills with the hope that if passed into law, this will stimulate development and economic growth in our respective districts and communities and open more investments and employment opportunities for our constituents,” Aragones said.
Aragones is the principal author of House Bill No. 7564, which seeks to declare the municipality of Alaminos, province of Laguna, as an ecotourism zone. Aragones’ bill was also passed by the panel.
In his sponsorship speech, Cabochan cited the need to promote and develop Pag-asa Island Cluster as a special ecological tourism zone for both local and foreign tourists.
“The Pag-asa Island has the potential to become a tourist attraction, It is endowed with rich, and diverse natural resources and fishery ground and offers a marine environment suitable for diving,” he said.
He noted that in 2015, the mayor of Pag-Asa Island expressed the desire to make the island into a tourism hub and fishery zone. "The island is worthy of conservation to sustain the long-term benefits we can gain from it,” he said.
Cabochan said HB 5985 seeks the creation of the Pag-asa Island Ecotourism Cluster Governing Board which shall rationalize all efforts pertaining to environmental protection and making the tourism industry as a major source of livelihood and an avenue for the generation of employment.
The Board shall be headed by the governor of Palawan.
"This aims to support the municipality of Kalayaan to pursue development and livelihood creation for the benefit of the residents. Moreover, this would strengthen the operational control of the Philippines over the island,” Cabochan said.
The Board shall be composed of the Palawan governor as chairperson; the congressional representative of the first district of Palawan as co-chairperson; the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) regional executive director for Region IV-B as vice chairperson; the Department of Tourism (DOT) regional director for Region IV-B as co vice-chairperson; the Kalayaan mayor, the barangay chairperson of Pag-asa; the commander of the AFP Western Command; Palawan Council for Sustainable Development executive director; a member of a nongovernment organization (NGO) whose advocacy is environmental protection; a member of academe; and a representative from the private sector and the business sector.
Cabochan's bill mandates the Board in coordination with the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) to prepare a development plan , which shall be approved by the President.
The eco-tourism master plan aims to ensure the promotion of tourism, the generation of employment and the protection and preservation of environment and ecosystem.
Under HB 5985, the Secretaries of the Department of Tourism (DOT), and DENR; and TIEZA Chief Operating Officer shall include in their respective programs the implementation of the proposed Act, the funding of which shall be included in the annual General Appropriations Act and internally generated funds of the DOT.