MANILA, Philippines – The new military chief just got more creative.
One month into his post, and fresh from his first command conference with the Western Command (Westcom), Armed Forces General Gregorio Catapang Jr shared on Thursday, August 14, his dream of turning the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) into a tourism destination.
Catapang wants a cruise ship that will tour the country’s islands near the disputed parts of the West Philippine Sea and perhaps land on Pag-asa, one of the biggest islands in the West Philippine Sea and a municipality in the province of Palawan.
The seat of power in the isolated Kalayaan Group of Islands has its own runway.
Catapang was with the Westcom Thursday and was responding to a question from an embedded reporter of the state-run PTV4 on his plans for the Palawan-based command amid China’s continous buildup in disputed maritime territories.
Catapang started talking about the counterinsurgency campaign in the island province: “I was given a full briefing on the internal peace and security situation and, at the same time, the challenges that we face in protecting the islands that we now possess. Talagang very challenging. Even if isang probinsiya ‘yung kanilang focus sa Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP), which is Palawan.”
He continued to talk about the West Philippine Sea. “I challenged them to make Palawan the next most prosperous province. Palawan has a lot of potentials, especially if we can also develop the islands that we now possess as toursim destination – fishing grounds, and later on, we can find more oil and gas in the area.”
“We’ll be able to hopefully have a cruise. Kasi ganun din yung ginagawa ng ibang bansa (Because that is what other countries are doing). They have a tourism effort to go around the islands that they possess,” Catapang said.
A CNN story in April 2013 talks about China’s plans to have a cruise of disputed islands coming from Sansha City, an island it controls. Tourists will eat and sleep on board but won’t be allowed to stay on the island. (READ CNN story in 2013: China to open disputed islands to tourism)
“If they are able to reclaim the islands and also make it as a tourist destination, it will be a ‘win-win’ for us,” Catapang said.
It can be a public-private partnerships, he added.
China continues to have up to 6 coast guard ships patrolling the West Philippine Sea, based on latest reports. The Philippines continues to protest the reclamation of Mabini (South Johnson) Reef, which the military fears China will turn into a base.
The Philippines is seeking regional support for its proposal for a Triple Action Plan that includes a moratorium on provocative actions. China has rejected this, however. – Rappler.com
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