Defense dep’t OKs plan to allow tourists on Pag-asa
PAG-ASA ISLAND—The defense department has approved a plan of the municipal government of Kalayaan in Palawan province to allow commercial planes to use the runway on Pag-asa to bring tourists to the disputed island in the Spratlys.
“The municipality has the plans (to develop tourism). This will need an interagency effort,” Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr., Armed Forces chief of staff, told reporters on his first visit to Pag-asa on Monday.
The visit comes amid China’s aggressive behavior in the disputed seas. Significant progress in Chinese reclamation activities around the West Philippine Sea has been made in recent months based on satellite
images by the military.
Catapang, accompanied by other ranking AFP officials and reporters, inspected the facilities on the island and presided over a ceremonial flag-raising. He said he took the opportunity to visit upon the invitation of Kalayaan Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon Jr.
The AFP is throwing its full support for the municipality’s tourism plan that the local government aims to roll out starting next year.
Among the key recommendations of the local government is to demilitarize the airstrip in Pag-asa, which is currently exclusively being used by the AFP, mainly to bring in provisions for troops stationed on islands claimed by the Philippines.
The airstrip’s availability for civilian use is deemed by the municipality as crucial to its tourism plans.
“We need to have the airstrip to be a rated aerodome to allow civilian aircraft that will bring in tourists and provide support,” Bito-onon said.
Kalayaan hopes to start ferrying tourists to Pag-asa “by next year” using a brand-new 25-meter boat that the municipality is purchasing. The boat can carry up to 25 tourists in one trip, Bito-onon said.
“We really don’t have a budget set aside for this, but we can accommodate 30 persons at a time on the island. Many tourists actually already expressed interest to visit and everything is still in the planning stage but we plan to start next year,” Bito-onon said.”
The mayor described the tourism plan as a modest “backyard business” that would start small scale until it draws significant private investments.
The tourism package, Bito-onon explained, would be a guided tour of the islands in the Kalayaan, including visits to Patag, Lawak, Likas, Pag-asa, Panata and Ayungin Shoal. The take-off point is in the southern part of Quezon province, where the municipal government has a satellite office.
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