‘Develop Pag-asa Island for recreational fishing’

Sheila Crisostomo - The Philippine Star
âDevelop Pag-asa Island for recreational fishingâ
Photo taken from a C-130 transport plane in April 2017 shows Pag-asa Island. A lawmaker is proposing to convert the island into a ‘recreational fishing tourism destination.’

MANILA, Philippines — To pave the way for the development of Pag-asa Island, Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel has filed a bill seeking to declare and develop the 37.2-hectare island as a “recreational fishing tourism destination.”

In authoring House Bill 6228, Pimentel is proposing that Pag-asa – which China calls Zhongye Island and has been constantly swarmed by Chinese vessels – would be established as a Philippine leisure fishing tourism site.

“The ultimate purpose of our bill is to pave the way for Pag-asa’s development, considering that other countries claiming all or parts of the Spratly archipelago are also increasing their presence on the islands, reefs and shoals that they occupy there,” he said.

Under the bill, Pag-asa will be developed “into a thriving community by attracting both foreign and local tourists, particularly visitors inclined to engage in recreational fishing, including catch-and-release fishing.”

The measure also seeks to “afford small fisherfolk supplemental sources of income from tourism-related activities, such as leasing their boats and services to holidaymakers, including visitors that may wish to fish in and around Pag-asa for leisure, exercise or competition.”

Surrounded by shallow coral ranges, Pag-asa lies some 480 kilometers northwest of Puerto Princesa City and has been occupied by the Philippines since 1970.

According to Pimentel, Pag-asa is the largest landform of the Kalayaan Island Group, which also includes the islets of Likas, Parola, Lawak, Kota, Patag and Panata, and Balagtas Reef, Ayungin Shoal and Rizal Shoal.

The measure stated that on June 11, 1978, then president Ferdinand Marcos Sr. issued Presidential Decree No. 1596, which created the Municipality of Kalayaan over the Kalayaan Island Group under the province of Palawan.

The Kalayaan municipal government is based in Pag-asa, which is also the town’s lone barangay. A sixth-class municipality, Kalayaan is the least populated town in the Philippines, with only 193 residents who all live on Pag-asa, according to the 2020 census.

Marine protected area

Fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) has expressed apprehension over House Bill No. 6373 filed by Palawan 3rd District Rep. Edward Hagedorn that seeks to declare all areas within three nautical miles from the baselines surrounding the Kalayaan Group of Islands and Panatag Shoal (Scarborough) as marine protected areas.

“While we acknowledge the objective of the bill to protect the major features in the West Philippine Sea against destructive fishing practices, we fear that this might sweepingly cover small fishers, as the proposed marine protected areas will be within the municipal waters,” Pamalakaya national chairman Fernando Hicap said.

“We will be vigilant of this bill that could restrict Filipino fishers from their traditional fishing grounds while actually failing to prevent China and other foreign fleets from conducting large-scale fishing, among other destructive activities beyond the municipal waters,” Hicap said.

Pamalakaya stressed local conservation measures would be “unnecessary” if only the Marcos administration effectively upholds the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling recognizing the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea. – Elizabeth Marcelo


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