Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel has filed a bill seeking to declare and develop the 37.2-hectare Pag-asa Island – the largest Philippine-occupied landmass at the northeastern section of the disputed Spratly archipelago – as a recreational fishing tourism destination.
Under Pimentel’s House Bill No. 6228 filed Monday, Pag-asa, which China calls Zhongye Island, and which 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,” Pimentel said.
Pimentel is a stauncher backer of the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the United States, and served as chairperson of the House strategic intelligence committee in the 18th Congress.
Under Pimentel’s bill, Pag-asa would 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 bill 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.
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.
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.
“Once enacted, our bill would also provide the Municipality of Kalayaan, which currently has little to no income, a new recurring revenue stream from tourism-related activities,” Pimentel said.
Pimentel is also author of another measure – House Bill No. 1782 –that seeks to appropriate P5 billion for the installation of new naval forward operating bases to secure the West Philippine Sea’s gas and oil deposits “for the enjoyment of future generations of Filipinos.”