By Ben Rosario
The House Committee on Natural Resources has declared the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) in Palawan as alienable and disposable land for agriculture, residential and commercial purposes.
The .79-sq. km. island has a population of 184 as of the latest 2015 census but is administered by a municipal government funded by an average P47-million annual income.
Members of the natural resources panel voted unanimously to endorse House Bill 5614 for immediate passage in the Lower House.
Authored by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez (PDP-Laban, Davao del Norte) and Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas (PDP-Laban, Ilocos Norte), HB 5614 provides that the KIG composed of Pagasa (Thitu), Likas, Parola, Lawak, Kota, Patag, Panata, Ayungin Reef, Balagtas Reef, and Rizal Reef containing a total land area of 0.79 sq. km. (0.31 sq. mi.) constituting the Municipality of Kalayaan, Province of Palawan, be declared as alienable and disposable land for agricultural, residential, commercial and other productive purposes.
The Philippine government has declared KIG a territory of the Philippines despite China’s adversarial claim over certain areas of the area.
Alvarez and Fariñas said it is urgent to declare the Kalayaan Island Group as alienable and disposable to promote permanent dwelling and develop a viable source of livelihood for the residents therein.
Alvarez said, as an alienable and disposable land, the KIG would promote the growth of business opportunities and spur the development of trade and industry by attracting investors to the area.
The Kalayaan Island Group offers rich fishing grounds and contains significant oil and natural gas reserves. It is vital to the security and economic survival of the Philippines.
The Speaker also said the Municipality of Kalayaan is in the process of creating new projects to promote tourism for the island group. It is inviting Filipino businessmen to invest in Kalayaan but investors are reluctant because the island group is inalienable and non-disposable for agricultural, residential and commercial purposes.
“Even residents who have been long tilling and developing the parcels of land within the Kalayaan Island Group cannot apply for title for their occupied area,” said the Speaker.
For his part, Fariñas cited Presidential Decree 1596, entitled “Declaring Certain Area Part of the Philippine Territory and Providing for Their Government and Administration,” constituted the Kalayaan Island Group as a distinct and separate municipality of the Province of Palawan, now known as the Municipality of Kalayaan.
The bill provides that within 90 days after the effectivity of the Act, the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources shall promulgate the necessary rules and regulations for the effective implementation of this Act.
During the hearing, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) deputy chief of staff Lt. Gen. Salvador Melchor Mison Jr. revealed that the military is set to implement an P11.6-billion development plan for the nine Kalayaan islands.