Lawak: With or without sea row, this WPS island needs protection

Lawak: With or without sea row, this WPS island needs protection

Lawak Island

ISLAND SANCTUARY A Philippine Navy sailor walks on a grassy portion of Lawak Island in the West Philippine Sea among countless sooty terns, which have made the island a sanctuary in this picture taken on July 3, 2022. PHOTOS BY MARIANNE BERMUDEZ AND GERALDFORD TICKE.

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY — The Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) and Kalayaan municipality in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) have agreed to both manage and protect the Lawak Island Critical Habitat (LICH).

The memorandum of agreement (MOA), which is also in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through its Sustainable Interventions for Biodiversity, Ocean and Landscapes (Sibol) project, was signed on Friday.


The 7.93-hectare island is located about 158 kilometers (98 miles) east of Pag-asa Island, the seat of government of Kalayaan town, some 300 km (186 miles) west of mainland Palawan.


READ: Smaller boat in ‘Atin Ito’ convoy completes mission to Lawak

The fourth largest of the nine islands and maritime features occupied by the Philippines in WPS, Lawak is home to thousands of migratory birds like sooty terns (Onychoprion fuscatus) and boobies (Sula).

There is an undisclosed number of government troops and Philippine Coast Guard personnel deployed on the island.

Lawak Island

Lawak is one of the nine islands and maritime features occupied by the Philippines in the Spratlys island chain in the South China Sea and is under the administrative supervision of Kalayaan municipality of the province of Palawan. It is about 300 kilometers west of Palawan, well within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.

Critical habitat

The PCSD declared Lawak a critical habitat on Sept. 8, 2022, to provide it with wider conservation and protection. This was affirmed by Kalayaan through Sangguniang Bayan Resolution No. 047-015 and Municipal Ordinance No. 95-223.

During the MOA signing, Palawan Gov. and PCSD Chair Victorino Dennis Socrates said the move was the first of a series of interventions by the province to protect the environment as it increased its participation in the efforts by Kalayaan in strengthening the country’s territorial rights in the WPS.

READ: Palawan gov pays ‘symbolic’ visit to Pag-asa Island


In an interview, Socrates said he felt the need for more efforts from the provincial government to come up with interventions that could help Kalayaan.

“So, through this, we would like to say that the provincial government also stands by Kalayaan being a component LGU (local government unit) of Palawan, so we are also trying to intensify our interventions,” Socrates said.

For stronger claim

He said the Department of Transportation proposed and had appropriated funds for the construction of a tourist port on Lawak, which would be implemented by the provincial government.

“We are doing this to strengthen our claim of ownership and sovereignty in the area,” Socrates said.

He said that the provincial government will also construct an additional school building and a covered court on Pag-asa and funded through Palawan’s Special Education Fund.

“Everything is just starting now because for the longest time, the system was in the hands of the national government regarding our claims in WPS since it involves questions of national security and foreign affairs,” Socrates said.

“But now with the administration of President Marcos, it seems that the LGU needs to be more active, so, for me it’s a privilege to be here at this time,” he added.

MOA signing for Lawak Island

MANAGE AND PROTECT Officials of Kalayaan municipality and the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) sign a memorandum of agreement (MOA) to manage and protect the Lawak Island Critical Habitat on Friday in Puerto Princesa City. The officials are, from left, Kalayaan Vice Mayor Beltzasar Alindogan, Mayor Roberto del Mundo, Palawan governor and PCSD Chair Victorino Dennis Socrates, PCSD Staff Deputy Executive Director Nino Rey Estoya and Vivian Soriano, the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office senior ecosystems management specialist. GERALDFORD TICKE

Proof of sovereignty

Kalayaan Mayor Roberto del Mundo was thankful for the MOA.

“This is an additional proof of our sovereign rights over WPS, that’s why it is just right to protect and conserve it,” Del Mundo said.

USAID-Sibol acting Chief of Party Mar Guidote thanked the parties for involving them in the operationalization of the LICH declaration.

Guidote said that over the last few years, USAID-Sibol played an important role in the scientific and legal support for the declaration through a series of consultations and workshops.

He encouraged the signatories to take the opportunity to seek more support as the Sibol project was winding down with one year remaining in its implementation in Palawan.

“We remain committed to provide science and legal support to further operationalization of this MOA and to popularize Lawak Island as a critical habitat to a larger audience,” Guidote said Friday.

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With the management plan soon to be implemented through the MOA, he said Sibol would continue to provide a forum and a platform for agencies and interested parties concerned to strike a balance between different sectors.

TAGS: critical habitat, Kalayaan town, Palawan, WPS

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