Express Week

Ecotourism initiative of Pag Asa Island Mayor Jun Bito-onon draws support from Filipino Community in New York

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NEW YORK - Mayor Eugenio “Jun” Bito-Onon of Pag Asa Island, Palawan was a special guest in a breakfast forum held at Kalayaan Hall, attended by Filipino community leaders and members.

Consul General Mario L. De Leon, Jr., accompanied by Atty. Loida Nicolas Lewis and Mr. Eric Lachica of US Pinoys for Good Governance, and Atty. JT Mallonga, National Chair of National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFAA) welcomed the community and Mayor Jun Bito-Onon who provided a presentation about his local community in Pag- Asa Island located at the western part of Kalayaan Island Group.

Consul General De Leon said that the holding the forum is in recognition of the lasting, far reaching effects to our country of issues attached to the West Philippine Sea which is a hotbed of economic activity where about US$6 Trillion of commercial cargo passes yearly.  However, the region presents unique and sensitive geo-political challenges for the Philippines.  And while the country’s attention is drawn to the issue on sovereignty, humanitarian and economic issues, particularly in Pag-Asa Island, which is populated by about 300 Filipinos, need to be addressed, he added.

Consul General De Leon acknowledged the pioneering initiative of Mayor Bito-Onon  and US Pinoys for Good Governance, and was pleased to host a forum on eco-tourism to create awareness in the diaspora aimed at uplifting the lives of Pag-Asa settlers by providing sustainable livelihood while maintaining a “green” environment, and believes that the diaspora’s “can-do” spirit has a role in this project, he continued.

Mayor Bito-Onon acknowledged the support by the Consulate General and Filipino community members in promoting eco-tourism in his island and for opening possible partnerships with foreign and Filipino investors who share in their vision.  He pointed out Malaysia as a success story when it invested in a tourist resort complex in one of the island it is currently occupying in the Spratlys.  In his presentation, he pointed out that various claimants are occupying different islands near Palawan and that Pag- Asa Island has the greatest potential for development due to its size and natural harbor, he said.

Mayor Bito-Onon said that a project on eco-tourism entails significant capital outlay for basic infrastructure such as a sea port and airfield to make Pag Asa accessible.  

Atty. Loida Nicolas Lewis provided the geopolitical underpinnings of the West Philippine Sea issue, the nature of dispute between claimants, particularly China’s recent reclamation activities, and the significance of US involvement and support for the Philippines, while emphasizing the importance of the diaspora in realizing our country’s future.  She also encouraged Filipino-Americans to make their votes count by registering as voters in the US and Philippine Presidential elections, which will coincide in 2016.   

A brief Q&A followed where community members expressed their support for Mayor Bito-Onon and Pag Asa Island, noted the need for additional government support for people’s livelihood and additional outlay for construction of infrastructure, emphasized drawing up a well-studied master plan on eco-tourism that would include other islands in the Kalayaan Island Group occupied by the Philippines, and raising funds for the installation of a seaport and airstrip.

In attendance during the event were Filcom leaders from Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania who are members of NaFAA and USPGG.  The Consulate General is supportive of Filipino community members and of projects promoting Philippine tourism and interests in cooperation with major Filcom organizations and local US agencies. 

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