Election fever sweeps Kalayaan Island town
Jaime Laude (The Philippine Star) - August 5, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Election fever has spread even to the country’s smallest and remotest town, located on Kalayaan Island in the disputed Spratlys archipelago.

Islanders are talking about a possible challenger to Eugenio Bito-onon Jr., the incumbent mayor and member of the administration’s Liberal Party. He is on his second term.

“I’ve been hearing about it already and it’s perfectly normal in Philippine politics. Even in our tiniest islet out there …politics are also in play,” Bito-onon said yesterday.

On the sidelines of the Kapihan sa Manila Bay media forum at the Luneta Hotel, the Kalayaan town mayor said he is not spared from political power plays.

However, he declined to mention who among the 223 registered voters out of 300 residents of the town are challenging him in the next elections.

Bito-onon said he is familiar with all of the people in the town since the island is small enough to accommodate his friends and constituents.

In the May 2013 mid-term elections, Bito-onon ran against two other mayoralty contenders – retired military man and former Kalayaan vice mayor Rosendo Mantes and businessman Noel Osorio.

Garnering 108 votes, Bito-onon won against Osorio (69 votes) and Mantes (46) in the political contest where soldiers were on forward deployment in the island town.

The elections in the island were considered the most peaceful, orderly and fastest compared to other places around the country.

Ecotourism

Bito-onon was in Manila to generate awareness and solicit support from the government and the private sector for his development projects in the island.

Bito-onon wanted to promote Kalayaan as a major destination for ecotourism. The town is located right in the middle of other islands in the West Philippine Sea that are being claimed by China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

To spur ecotourism in Pag-Asa Island as well as in other nearby islets, a shelter harbor should be built, initially in his island town.

Kalayaan town, a fifth class municipality of Palawan, is located in Pag-Asa Island, the second biggest island next only to the Taiwanese-occupied Itu Aba in the Spratlys island chain.

Bito-onon stressed the island group occupied by the Philippines needs to be developed.

“We should not talk about sovereignty here anymore because KIG is a Philippine territory. What we need is to occupy other unoccupied islets and develop them for ecotourism purposes just like what Malaysia did at its formerly occupied Layang-Layang reef,” he said.

Malaysia has transformed Layang-Layang into a world-class dive spot with support facilities such as an airfield, safe harbor, hotel, swimming pool and souvenir shops. The area also serves as Malaysia’s forward military post in the disputed region.

Layang-Layang is located near the maritime waters of Sabah but its distance from China’s island province of Hainan has not deterred China from also claiming it as an integral part of its maritime domain under the nine-dash line encompassing almost the entire South China Sea.

ACIRC BITO EUGENIO BITO IN THE MAY ISLAND ITU ABA KALAYAAN LAYANG-LAYANG ONON PAG-ASA ISLAND TOWN
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