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The Last Frontier: El Nido, Palawan

By Cyril John Barlongo

From its crystal-clear waters, towering cliffs and white-sand beaches, El Nido in Palawan is a perfect spot during summer season. It is known as a paradise with its rich natural resources and marine life. It is also a top destination for scuba divers and island-hoppers.

One of its beaches has been named as one of the best in Asia recently by the world’s largest travel web site, TripAdvisor, in its 2015 Traveller’s Choice Awards.

I have so much to boast of this town, from the nice people populating the town to how local and foreign tourists are mesmerized by this paradisiacal gift of the heavens to mankind.

Tourists often wonder if they have the budget for such an escapade. Of course, everyone can enjoy El Nido. Summer is still here, and what follows are my top 5 tips for an enjoyable respite in El Nido.

1 Accommodation. Find a cheap room online. There’s a lot to choose from that will be right for your needs. If you are on a tight budget, book a fan room since you’re there to discover the beauty of the place, especially if you have limited days of stay. Fan-room accommodation ranges P500 to P1,000.

2 Island-hopping. If you’re on your own or with just a companion, it’s okay to ride with others than rent a boat by yourself. Wouldn’t you say meeting perfectly agreeable strangers is better than being alone by your lonesome? Make some friends and cut down on those boat fees.

3 Airfare. There are a lot of promos. Piso fares and even centavo fares can be found if you look hard enough. It can be Air Asia, Cebu Pacific, Tigerair and flag-carrier Philippine Airlines. Check their web site regularly because most of these low-fare offerings are for a limited number of seats only.

4 Land travel. From Puerto Princesa City to El Nido, riding a Roro bus may save your budget. It ranges from P300 to P400. If you want a hassle-free ride, there’s also a shuttle, an air-conditioned van that may take four to five hours of travel for only P500 at the cheapest fare price.

5 Foods. To savor all the fresh sea foods, some of the inns in El Nido offer an inclusive gas range. Just cook your own dishes. Enjoying the same at restaurants can quickly add up.

For all the first-timers, you must watch out for those extra charges that can creep into your airfare. If you don’t need to, like if you’re the backpacker sort, look for features and offers that you don’t want or need.

On the other hand, scuba diving is one of the popular activities in El Nido, with over 30 dive sites for various levels of expertise, from taking the plunge for beginners to advancing your skills and perfecting your dive.

El Nido has so many different treasures to offer. You can also do snorkeling, cliff climbing, waterfalls, kayaking, cave exploration and windsurfing. If you want to discover the surrounding north of Palawan, you can also rent a motorbike.

With 50 beaches to discover, El Nido is the top destination for island-hopping in the Philippines. You can find enchanting lagoons with tranquil turquoise green water, caves that can take you to hidden beaches, and a very diverse variety of marine life.

Pinoys join global call for Norway fossil fuel divestment

By Denise Fontanilla (

Campaigners say Norwegian pension funds 50-70% of Philippine coal plants

MANILA, Philippines — A Filipino has joined fellow climate campaigners from around the world in Oslo to call on Norwegian politicians to stop their country from funding of fossil fuel projects worldwide.

“In behalf of the resisting, struggling coal and climate-affected communities of the Philippines, we enjoin Norway, its government, and its people to divest from coal and fossil fuels,” Gerry Arances, coordinator of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ), told the Norwegian parliament on Thursday, May 21.

Arances said that based on his estimated, Norway funds at least half of coal plants under construction in the Philippines.

The Scandinavian nation boasts the biggest national fund in the world at $900 billion, roughly $12 billion of which is said to be invested in coal. On Jne 5, its Congress equivalent will vote on whether or not the fund should sell out or divest its fossil fuel investments.

Big companies, big damage

In the Philippines, the fund directly finances the DMCI-owned Semirara Mining and Power Corporation, which operates the oldest and largest coal mine in the country.

“The company scraps up the earth and dumps it into our oceans. They have taken over kilometers of our coral reefs where we used to fish,” said Fely Magan, a resident of Semirara island in Antique. “That is now covered with mining waste. It flows into our mangroves and kills those. It flies in the air and coats our houses and our kids breathe it in. And it kills our seaweed that needs clean water. This is our source of income.”

Magan continued: “When the company wants more land or to clear us from the ocean they just come with their guns and we move because we are afraid. We are being pushed into a tiny corner of the island while they make millions. They will keep digging. They will just make their money and leave us with a big hole and destroyed land."

DMCI plans to use the low-grade coal mined from Semirara to fuel a coal plant in Palawan, despite years of opposition from residents and green groups alike.

Aboitiz Power Corporation, another beneficiary of the Norwegian fund, is also building coal-fired power plants in the country: one 300-megawatt (MW) plant each in Toril, Davao City, and Toledo, Cebu, and a 600-MW plant in Subic, Zambales.

The Norwegian fund’s investments in the country reached a high in 2013 totaling P23.6 billion, according to PMCJ. It reported holdings in Metro Pacific Investment Corporation, GT Capital Holdings, SM Investments, Petron, Ayala Land, and Universal Robina Corporation, among others.

The so-called “oil fund” has already divested from 114 companies in the past 3 years because of environmental and climate concerns. This includes 32 coal mining companies in 2014, according to a report the fund managers released in February 2015.

Environmentalists and energy analysts alike assert that they are not doing enough.

“Despite this reduction [the Government Pension Fund Global] retains substantial holdings in coal mining companies. The Fund also has significant holdings in utilities and power-generation companies, many of which have coal plants in their generation mix,” Tom Sanzillo, finance director of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, said in his own report released in May 17.

The oil fund “is invested in companies that collectively account for 42% of the world’s coal production,” according to Norwegian and German green groups.

“While the Norwegian government is doing its best to limit global warming to 2°C, its Pension Fund is clearly playing for the other team.”

BIMP EAGA Senior Officials visit Palawan to Strengthen Road, Air and Sea Linkages


MANILA, May 22 (PNA) -- Senior Officials and Cluster heads from Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP EAGA) member countries will visit the Philippines for the post Senior Officials Meeting which will be held in Puerto Princesa Palawan on May 25 to 26, 2015.

This will serve as a follow up activity on 11th BIMP-EAGA Summit held at Langkawi, Kedah, Malaysia last April 28, 2015 to review the progress and implementation bottlenecks on priority programs and projects identified during the 2015 Summit.

Trade and Industry Undersecretary Prudencio M. Reyes, Jr, also the Philippine senior Official will be attending the Post Senior Officials Meeting (SOM) as a part of his role in promoting the Philippines’ ties with other ASEAN nations in pursuit of achieving BIMP EAGA deliverables.

“As the Philippine Senior Official, I have high hopes that this convention will encourage interaction and exchange of ideas among the participants to cover all areas of concerns and obtain substantive results at the end of the meeting.” said Undersecretary Prudencio Reyes, Jr.

Senior Officials and Cluster Heads will tackle 2nd Generation Priority Infrastructure Projects (PIPs) which includes road projects, seaports and airports expansion for a stronger connectivity within BIMP-EAGA. Reviving air links between Philippines and its EAGA counterparts is currently one of the priorities of Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) to maximize the travel tax exemption approved by the Philippine government for travelers from Mindanao and Palawan heading to any of the BIMP-EAGA destinations. Currently, the Philippines has been enhancing its transport connectivity systems in BIMP-EAGA through strengthening the following transport facilities: Davao-GenSan-Bitung Shipping Service, Brooke’s Point Palawan-Kudat RORO service, and Davao-Manado air Linkage.

"We are hopeful that agreements will be reached on the long standing issue of BIMP-Facilitation Center so that we can fast-track the implementation of these priority infrastructure projects." Usec Prudencio Reyes, Jr. concluded.

(Special Report) PHL presence off WPS to continue despite tensions

By Priam F. Nepomuceno [(PNA), CTB/PFN]

MANILA,May 21 (PNA) -- Despite ongoing tensions at the West Philippine Sea, soldiers and civilian residents manning Filipino-owned features in the Spratlys Island Group, especially those living in Pagasa, have expressed willingness to defend their fishing ground and vast maritime resources against illegal fishers and intruders.

Pagasa (known as Thitu internationally) is one of the islands lying in the disputed West Philippine Sea.

Out of the seven island and three reefs being controlled by the Philippines, Pagasa is the largest measuring 37.2 hectares.

Other Philippine possessions in the Spratlys include Likas Island which measures 18.6 hectares, Parolo Island, 12.7 hectares, Lawak Island 7.93 hectares, Kota Island, 6. 45 hectares, Patag Island, 0.57, Panata Island, 0.44, Rizal, Balagtas and Ayungin Reefs.

Mary Joy Batiancila, Pagasa Island administrator, said that fisherfolk in the locality are deeply concerned with the illegal fishing activities being done by foreign fishermen around the island.

She said these illegal fishermen, particularly the Chinese and Vietnamese, were always seen using unauthorized means in fishing around Pagasa Island.

Batiancila said the Philippine Coast Guard, Pagasa barangay officials and their fishermen would regularly chase or warn these illegal fishers away.

“They are engaged in blast or dynamite fishing. They also use cyanide,” she added.

Batiancila said these illegal activities are ruining the natural ecosystem and physical makeup of the “bahura” or the coral reefs around Pagasa Island.

“This leads to a drop in the fish catch or incomes of our own fishermen,” she said.

Kalayaan town mayor Eugenio Bitoon-on said that these illegal fishing activities made local officials of Kalayaan and Palawan alert and concern over the condition of the marine ecosystem in the West Philippine Sea.

The presence of such illegal fishing activities endangers the West Philippine Sea which is considered as one of the richest fishing grounds of the Philippines.

Batiancila said the area around Pagasa alone is abundant with turtles, dolphins, manta rays and various kinds of fish.

Pagasa is surrounded by around 20 to 30 hectares of rich coral reefs home to aquarium and commercial fish.

It provides livelihood and food for Pagasa’s more or less 200 dwellers. It is often visited by rare types of turtles like the endangered leatherback.

Just some three nautical miles away from Pagasa is the sandbar Pagasa Islanders call the “Secret Island”, Batiancila said.

The island is also home to teeming marine life which the Islanders are keeping watch over.

Pagasa is the nearest neighbor of Subi Reef, which is only 25.7 kilometers away.

Subi Reef is now included among the areas in West Philippine Sea where the Chinese government is doing massive reclamation activities by building structures on and around it, destroying corals and hectares upon hectares of coral reefs in the process.

Bitoon-on said the Chinese seem bent on transforming the reef into a man-made island.

Chinese and Vietnamese fishermen often visit Subi Reef and the Secret Island to gather giant clams from the area.

Batiancila said recent surveys by Coast Guard and the local government revealed that there is a decline in the number of giant clams in there.

“We cannot perform arrests against them even though we have the maritime police with us. We do not have facilities and transportation to stand against them,” she said.

Batiancila said that the least their authorities could do is to chase away the illegal fishermen that they could.

“But we can never engage them,” she said.

Despite not having the right facilities, the people of Pagasa and the local officials of Kalayaan and Palawan expressed utmost support in protecting the natural treasures of West Philippine Sea.

Bitoon-on said he is thankful for the support that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Coast Guard give to the people of Pagasa.

He said he is confident that the people of Pagasa are secure and safe in their homes on the island.

He said among the projects of the municipality is creating a tourism route through West Philippine Sea which will include Pagasa Island.

Bitoon-on added that the new industry would help generate more jobs and income for the people of Kalayaan Group of Islands.

AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang, during his May 11 visit to Pagasa Island, called on the people to continue supporting the claims of the Republic of the Philippines on the West Philippine Sea and all the islands in it.

“This is ours!” was the battle cry of AFP for the disputed territories.

He said the AFP is willing to support the agenda of enlivening tourism in the West Philippine Sea. He said Pagasa Island and the reefs around it alone has enough to offer for both domestic and international tourists.

He also assured that the AFP will remain protecting the island and its surrounding waters against any threats.

As this develops, Western Command chief Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez said Filipino pilots under him will continue their sovereignty patrols.

This is despite seven incidents involving Chinese monitoring platforms challenging Filipino aircraft.

"We told the pilots to answer them (Chinese) the correct way. That they are navigating in international airspace and we are doing our normal air patrol missions," he added.

Lopez also said that they are not scared by these incidents and stressed that they are not cowed by the challenges.

The Western Command chief said that Chinese attempts to challenge Philippine maritime patrol flights started last April 19.

Another challenge was reported on May 10, Lopez said.

Lopez also clarified that the no-fly zone over Subi Reef, where a Chinese reclamation project, does not legally exist.

"There is no such thing. Again, it's an international airspace. (We have) freedom of flight," he added.

The Western Command chief said that Chinese reclamation progress in Subi Reef is very fast as only patches of work can be seen last Feb. 25.

"If you will base it from the last flight that we had (there)sometime Feb. 25, (It is now big) Before (only) patches (can be seen). (Now you can see) solid connections)," he pointed out.

In line with this, Lopez also urged Filipino fishermen to continue asserting their fishing rights at Scarborough Shoal as it is legitimate Philippine territory.

"Our message (to Filipino fishermen despite the purported Chinese harassment) is to continue going there (because) it is ours.That's a traditional fishing country," he added.

He made this appeal especially to those fishermen based in Northern Luzon.

China gain control of Scarborough Shoal after a tense stand-off with the Philippine Navy in April 2012.

At the same time, Lopez said that there is an average three Chinese Coast Guard ships off Scarborough Shoal.

These vessels are deployed there with the sole purpose of driving away Filipino fisherfolk.

He also stressed that they are still to detect any Chinese reclamation efforts in the vicinity.

Scarborough Shoal has been placed under the operational jurisdiction of the Palawan-based Western Command in February 2014.

This was done through the orders of then Armed Forces of the Philippines chief-of-staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista.

"The area of Bajo De Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) has been transferred from the Northern Luzon Command to the Western Command, this is to enhance our external defense capabilities which is now being concentrated at the Western Command and unity of effort and command so that our external defense efforts will just be under one commander and that is the Western Command commander," he added.

Fisherfolk association up in arms vs seasonal control on reef-fish-for-food in Palawan

By Keith Anthony S. Fabro [(PNA), LAP/RCK/KASF/EDS]

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, May 20 (PNA) -- Over 50 members of a live-reef-food-fish trade association in the province sought to have an audience with Governor Jose Alvarez Monday to relate their opposition against the new seasonal control policy being imposed on them now by the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) that he chairs.

On Monday, the members of the United Fisherfolk of Puerto Princesa and Palawan (UFPPP) went to the Provincial Capitol to submit their petition letter to Alvarez, asking him to end the implementation of the PCSD “open-close season” policy on highly valuable live-reef-food-fish (LRFF) that are now dwindling in stocks in Palawan sea.

The PCSD is “a unique body that carries powerful responsibility on the environment in Palawan in terms of policy-making and implementation. It is multi-sectoral; it is an inter-disciplinary body, which under the law is charged with the governance, implementation and policy direction of Republic Act 7611, or the Strategic Environment Plan (SEP) for Palawan.”

"Para sa ating mahal at respetadong Gobernador, at PCSD Chairman Jose Ch. Alvarez, at sa lahat ng kasapi ng konseho, kami po ay masigasig na humihiling sa pamamagitan ng sama-samang pagkilos na ito, at mahigpit na pagtutol sabatas ng PCSD Administrative Order No. 05 s. 2014 na unti-unti pong pumapatay sa aming mga kabuhayan at hanapbuhay, na itigil na po ang pagpapatupad nito sa lalong madaling panahon(To our beloved and respected Governor and PCSD Chairman Jose Ch. Alvarez, and all the members of the Council, together we steadfastly denounce and compel you to stop the soonest possible time the implementation of PCSD Administrative Order No. 05, Series of 2014 that is slowly killing our livelihood)," the UFPPP petition letter read.

Since its ratification in October 2014, the policy entitled "Guidelines for the Regulation and Monitoring of Catching, Culture, Trade, Transport and Export of Reef-Fish-For-Food in Palawan" has since met oppositions.

Just last January, another group, the Palawan Live Fish Trader’s Association (PLFTA) decried the policy, all for the reason of imposing the seasonal control they deemed hampering their livelihood.

"Ito po ang pinakahigit na kinatatakutan ng lahat ng ating mga kasapi ng maliliit na mangingisda. Ano at paano kami mabubuhay? Mga katagang hindi kayang sagutin... Anong alternatibong kabuhayan ang nakalaan sa aming mga marginal fisherfolk? (This is the foremost provision fisherfolk members fear. What and how could we live? A question that couldn't be provided with answers. What alternative livelihood lies waiting for us marginal fisherfolk?) " asked the UFPPP.

Open season will be from January 1 to June 15, and September 1 to October 15. The close season, on the other hand, is from June 16 to August 31, and October 16 to December 15.

It was imposed for the catching and trading of the leopard coral trout (Plectropumus leopardus), or red grouper and suno; estuary or green grouper (Epinephelus coioides), or loba; and tiger brown-marbled grouper (Epinephelus fuscoguttatus), or lapung baboy.

The UFPPP is dismayed that it was imposed without passing sufficient public consultation.

"Its general provisions, reportorial requirements and penalties were hastened, and no public hearing was conducted in Puerto Princesa and every municipalities of Palawan," it said.

The group also slammed the "size restriction," stating that the "RFFF (or LRFF) that maybe caught from the wild shall be 32 centimeters or more but not exceeding 47.5 cm.”

"Sana po ay napag-aralan muna ito ng mabuti, at unti-unti upang maging maayos at katanggap-tanggap sa mga Palaweñong mangingisda (We hope this was thoroughly studied so that, inch-by-inch, we Palaweño fishermen could at least accept it)," they suggested.

UFPPP Chair Sabino Camacho, meanwhile, told the Philippines News Agency (PNA) Wednesday that the policy's permitting system is problematic and burdens small-earner fisherfolk.

"[Tinututulan namin] pagkakakansela ng Live Fish Accreditation patungo sa WSUP o Wildlife Special Use Permit (Trading), Wildlife Collectors Permit (Catching / Collecting), Wildlife Farm Permit (Culture), LTP o Local Transport Permit (Transport) kung saan ang WSUP holder ay magbabayad ng P20.00/ head sa RFFF at lobster, P10.00/ head sa Ornamental fish at fresh fish at dagdag na P200.00 inspection fee, at ang P10.00 legal certification bago makapag-shipment (We disagree with the cancellation of Live Fish Accreditation which was replace by WSUP or Wildlife Special Use Permit (Trading), Wildlife Collectors Permit (Catching / Collecting), Wildlife Farm Permit (Culture), LTP or Local Transport Permit (Transport), on which WSUP holder has to pay P20.00/ head for RFFF and lobster; P10.00/ head for ornamental and fresh fish and additional for P200.00 inspection fee; and another P10.00 for legal certification as a requirement before the shipment) ," Camacho explained.

With the speedy decline in fish catch, particularly of RFFF, due to the destruction of breeding grounds, the stakeholders and the PCSD technical working group convened and agreed to regulate the industry instead of banning it.

The policy still hangs in the balance with PCSD yet to tackle it "for amendment or suspension" due to lack of quorum in its previous meeting, but it will be included in the agenda of next council meeting on May 28, according to PCSD Staff Spokesperson Alex Marcaida in a text message.

Camacho said they were advised to attend the council meeting to personally register their plea over the contentious policy.

DOH-MIMAROPA inks MOA to train health workers for paramedics, home health care

By Keith Anthony S. Fabro [(PNA), FFC/LSJ WITH CARF]

MANILA, May 19 (PNA) -- The Department of Health (DOH)–MIMAROPA on Monday afternoon sealed a partnership with Roland A. Fernando School of Healthcare Technology (RAFSHT) in Pasay City with the aim to train and capacitate health workers of the region for paramedics and home health care.

The Monday signing ceremony coincided with the opening and blessing of RAFSHT that will offer specialty courses in health—paramedics and home health care.

The signing was led by DOH-MIMAROPA Regional Director Eduardo C. Janairo and Marylou Hontiveros-Fernando, president and founder of RAFSHT.

MIMAROPA region comprises the island provinces of Oriental/Occidental Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, Palawan.

Under the partnership, 10 nurses from the region's provinces (or nurses from the five provinces) will be selected and screened to qualify and endorsed as first batch of scholars that will be trained as paramedics starting this school year (June).

The agreement stipulates that the qualified nurses will undergo six weeks of crash course in paramedics and home health care under the learning institution.

Under the curriculum, these nurses will be trained in medical terminology, anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology, pharmacology and public health by experts from the United States.

A paramedic is a highly trained and skilled medical professional who is educated and skilled to carry emergency duties.

They are trained to examine, evaluate and treat patients using proper equipment and medications usually found in the emergency department of a hospital.

They are also tasked to provide trauma and on-site assessment of people in various emergency situations and they will submit essential information to health care providers.

“Paramedics are different from doctors in the sense that these health practitioners will concentrate on attending to emergency issues and becoming specialists in the care and treatment of patients out of hospital emergency medicine for they are the ones that will respond to emergency calls in times of crisis,” said Director Janairo.

He added that the paramedics are essential assets of health care because they will be deployed in health ambulances so that they can provide the early interventions needed to ensure higher survival of critical patients who needs early care before they reach hospitals.

Seeing the need for paramedics, Dr. Janairo said that they consider to initially trained nurses from emergency units of hospitals in MIMAROPA.

"We will be selecting nurses working in the emergency units of hospitals because they are already equipped with first hand emergency care skills needed to complete the course in paramedics and home health care,” he added.

According the regional director, once the nurses graduate from the course, they will facilitate the nurses’ return to their respective RHUs where they can immediately applied the needed paramedic health care they learned.

"They will be utilized as emergency care practitioners and first response emergency team that will provide rapid emergency treatment and care to patients in the provinces," Janairo added.

He also said that for serving in such purpose, the paramedics can perform the role of a firefighter, a nurse, a mediator, a social worker or even a counselor in serving the public.

He expressed optimism that through this training, the nurses can augment the critical care skills of the intensive care and the emergency units of hospitals and will answer the shortage of physicians in high risk areas of the region, including Palawan and the provinces of Oriental and Occidental Mindoro.

He further said that the basis for selection will also focus on looking for health workers who are ambitious, honest and caring people, mentally and physically fit and with the commitment to serve because serving in rural communities and in island provinces needs tough commitment to serve with a heart.

“Especially those that will be providing home health care services in the island communities of MIMAROPA”, he emphasized.

The scholarship will include board and lodging and allowances for selected individuals will all be shouldered by DOH MIMAROPA in the duration of the training period.

He said that he is hoping that if other regions will see the good effects and appreciate the importance of having paramedics ready to serve in times of emergencies, others will replicate the same in the different regions of the country.

Fire razes old public market in Puerto Princesa

By Keith Anthony S. Fabro [(PNA), LAP/CARF/KASF/EDS]

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, May 18 (PNA) -- Around 25 percent of the Puerto Princesa Old Public Market was razed to the ground by a fire that struck past 1 a.m. Monday due to suspected electrical short circuit, according to the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP).

A spark, possibly from an appliance or faulty electrical wiring, was seen before the structure went ablaze, Fire Chief Inspector Donald Rodriguez of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) told the Philippines News Agency (PNA) in a phone interview.

Rodriguez said the fire incident was reported to them at 1:05 a.m., and they immediately responded by dispatching four fire trucks to the old public market.

“When we got there, the fire was already full-blown in the part of Bonoan Street. What we did was concentrated in an area of Burgos Street, where the fire had not crept in the middle so, it won’t spread,” he explained.

He said around 80 stalls selling dry goods like used clothes, ready-to-wear apparels, pearls, and gadgets among others, were affected. He said the amount of the structure that was damaged was estimated at Php2 million.

But this could rise from Php5 million to Php10-million, once the owners of the stalls, who have large stocks of products have submitted there affidavits of loss.

No casualties or injured individuals were recorded in the close to four-hour blaze. Angry and despondent vendors, however, cried foul over looters, who took advantage of the situation.

The fire, which was smaller compared to the 2005 incident that turned a large part of the public market to ash, was declared fully extinguished 4:45 a.m. Investigation, however, is still going on.

BFAR mulls over closed season for ‘galunggong’


The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (Bfar) said over the weekend that it is planning to implement a closed season for round scad, or galunggong, in northern Palawan before the end of the year.

Agriculture Undersecretary and Bfar Director Asis Perez said the temporary ban on galunggong fishing will be carried out after the government completes a study on its effect on fish spawning and economic activity in Palawan.

“We are thankful to have generated enough support from the industry to undertake the temporary fishing ban in Palawan,” Perez said in a statement.

The Bfar, an attached agency of the Department of Agriculture (DA), resorts to implementing a closed season for some fish species to improve its population. The agency had earlier implemented a temporary ban on sardine fishing in Mindanao.

The decline in round scad catch in the first quarter was tagged as one of the biggest factors behind the anemic performance of the fisheries subsector during the period.

According to data released by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the catch of round scad or galunggong fell by 19.45 percent year-on-year. Skipjack catch also declined by 7.03 percent during the period.

The Bfar said it will “vigorously” assist the expansion of farms for vannamei or white-leg shrimp, eel and seaweeds to boost the output of the aquaculture sector.

Of all the subsectors, only fisheries posted a decline in output in the first quarter of the year. Farm growth in the first three months of 2015 hit 1.78 percent, faster than the 0.66 percent recorded in the same period last year.

Farm-output growth in the first quarter was boosted by the crops subsector, which expanded by 1.65 percent. The subsector accounted for 54.3 percent of total agricultural production.

“Palay production at 4.37 million metric tons [MMT] was 1.41 percent higher than last year’s record. This was brought about by notable increases in production in Mimaropa, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon and Ilocos region,” the PSA said.

Further boosting palay output during the period, the PSA said, is the use of hybrid and certified seeds. Palay output accounts for about 15 percent of farm production.

Meanwhile, corn production expanded by nearly 4 percent to 2.37 MMT in January to March. Output increases were recorded in Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Mimaropa, and Northern Mindanao.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala said he recognizes the need to sustain growth momentum amid the dry spell caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon.

Alcala said he is banking on initiatives, such as the six-year Philippine Rural Development Project to help prop up farm output.

Puerto Princesa int'l airport upgrade 25% complete


PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, May 16 (PNA) -- The "world-class" Puerto Princesa City International Airport (PPCIA), set to open early 2017, is now about 25 percent done, said Project Manager Engr. Gil Pamatmat.

"We are not just working fast, but we are also working with quality," Pamatmat told Philippines News Agency (PNA).

This USD 82.9-million design-and-build contract expansion project was awarded to a Korean group Kumho Industrial Co. Ltd.-GS Engineering and Construction joint venture (Kumho-GS).

It aims "to improve the existing facilities of the Puerto Princesa City International Airport by expanding its present capacity to meet projected passenger and cargo demand, as well as to enhance the airport's aviation operation, service, security and safety standard in compliance with the international standards (ICAO)."

Upon winning the contract in May 2014, Kumho-GS started late 2014 on working on a new passenger and cargo building, apron, taxi ways and navigation facilities.

When completed, the airport will have an annual capacity of about 2 million passengers, far from the existing passenger terminal building's estimated capacity of only 350,000 passengers per annum.

Palawan's capital city Puerto Princesa is home to the Underground River, one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature and designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site. The province, a well-known tourist destination, was also hailed "Top Island of the World" by prominent Conde Nast Traveler Magazine.

Presently, Pamatmat said while civil works, particularly the expansion of runway, are done at night time, they are also speeding up building works ahead of rainy season.

"We do the building foundation first in anticipation of rainy season, because it is when the operation slows down," he said, adding the weather condition matters in the speed of operation.

The project has 30 months to complete the project which is expected to be fully operational by the first quarter of 2017.

US partnership with Palawan gov’t promotes responsible tourism and livelihood


PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, May 15 (PNA) -- United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Philippines and Pacific Islands Mission Director Gloria Steele was in Palawan recently to signify the U.S. government’s commitment to support the province in achieving inclusive and resilient growth.

According to a release from the U.S. Embassy in Manila received by the Philippine News Agency (PNA) Friday, Steele visited the province on May 7-8 to particularly see the progress of seaweed farmers in Barangay Galoc under the Seaweed Upscaling Program (SUP).

The SUP is supported by the USAID through the Advancing Philippine Competitiveness (COMPETE) Project that was established with the Palawan government “to help increase seaweed production in the five municipalities of Culion, Dumaran, El Nido, Agutaya, and Cagayancillo.”

Aside from providing technical assistance in creating the SUP, the USAID is also training farmers and local government officials on proper farming techniques and aquaculture practices to ensure the sustainability of the industry.

“The U.S. government is pleased to work with Palawan to strengthen its seaweed industry. We believe this sector can generate more jobs and higher incomes for farmers,” Steele said, adding, “We will continue to work with our local partners to ensure that the benefits reaped by this industry are enjoyed by all.”

One of the seaweed farmers, Arnoldo Escultor, conveyed his gratitude for the training, and said it will “help improve his livelihood and provide additional income to support his three children.”

Steele also visited a portion of the highway that was constructed through the Department of Tourism-Department of Public Works and Highways (DOT-DPWH) Tourism Road Infrastructure Project.

The U.S. government, through USAID’s COMPETE Project, facilitated the allocation of national funds for local tourism roads that will connect inland communities to new developments in the province.

On May 8, the statement said Steele met with the Tagbanua Tribal Council and Coron local officials to discuss the development of social enterprises and other livelihood interventions to promote sustainable fisheries management.

Coron is one of the four municipalities which has jurisdiction over the Calamianes Islands.

Considered as one of the most biodiverse rich groups of islands in the Philippines, the islands contain 70 percent of coral and sea grass species recorded.

These natural sites are drawing tourists at increasing rates, providing a major source of income for people in the region and accelerating tourism as the main economic driver in Coron. Left unregulated however, the diversity of marine life in Calamianes is threatened by uncontrolled tourism development, beach quarrying of sand and pebbles, and illegal fishing.

The U.S. government, through USAID, has been at the forefront of addressing these issues, working alongside municipal local governments to conserve and protect Calamianes by building their capacity to manage coastal fisheries, develop local policies and legislations and enforce coastal laws.

USAID also works with local partners, including the Tagbanua Tribal Council, to promote an ecosystems approach to fisheries management.

“We intend to launch social enterprises that will help wean fishers away from overdependence on marine resources, preventing destructive fishing methods that are employed out of desperation,” Steele said. “We hope to contribute to the provincial government’s goal of poverty alleviation, which will lessen human-induced threats to marine resources and advance stability and prosperity throughout the region.”

2 PHL resorts make U.S. travel magazine's list of best resorts in Asia


MANILA, May 14(PNA) -- Two resorts in the Philippines have made it to the list of U.S. travel magazine, Conde Nast Traveler's 30 Best Resorts in Asia, the Department of Tourism (DOT) said on Thursday.

According to the Conde Nast website, Shangri-La's Boracay Resort and Spa in Boracay and El Nido Pangulasian, in Palawan ranked 30th and 12th on the magazine’s Reader’s Choice Awards 2014, respectively.

The DOT confirmed the news on its official Twitter and Instagram account.

"Raise your glasses once again because two resorts in the Philippines made it to the list of Conde Nast Traveler's Best Resorts in Asia -- Boracay Shangri-la and El Nido Resorts in Palawan!” the department said.

El Nido, which finished last on the list, received a ranking of 83.214. The magazine described the resort as a "luxurious hideaway (a quick boat trip from the airport)" to the island biosphere featured in The Bourne Legacy.

"A one-hour charter flight southwest from Manila brings you to a one-runway airport where you're welcomed by a group of singing ladies," the site noted.

"With scuba courses and access to more than 20 dive sites, as well as boat tours of caves and secret lagoons, you could spend all your time exploring, but the resort makes it equally tempting to stay put," it added.

It also mentioned some of the resort’s featured activities including snorkeling, kayaks for guests' use, and a seemingly endless choice of lounging options.

Shangri-La meanwhile received a ranking of 90.584 and was cited for being located on 30 beautiful acres in the country.

The magazine also noted that one of its readers spoke highly of the resort’s “private villa with a pool right near the ocean.”

It also praised the resort’s room interiors which showcase handwoven textiles and sconces made of local capiz shells and the beautiful sunsets eclipsed only by the great personal service.

The Condé Nast Traveler magazine began traveling the globe tracking down journeys since 1987.

Its website, meanwhile allows readers to tap into a living global archive of the very best hotels, restaurants, shops, itineraries, beaches, villages, and villas.

Council for sustainable dev’t in Palawan conducts impact assessment on SEP Law

By Celeste Anna R. Formoso [(PNA), LAM/CARF/SSC]

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, May 13 (PNA) -– In celebration of the 23rd anniversary of Republic Act 7611 or the Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) for Palawan in June this year, an two-day impact assessment was conducted by the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) in a bid to find where the law can be improved.

The Provincial Information Office (PIO) said Tuesday that the impact assessment workshop was aimed at reflecting and studying the provisions of the Act to also measure its accomplishments in the implementation of environment laws.

The activity particularly conducted an analysis on the strength of environmental laws and their aspects that need to be improved to provide accurate recommendations that are at par with the changes that had happened since it was enacted.

During the workshop, representatives that actively participated were from the Palawan NGO Network, Inc. (PNNI), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Conservation International (CI), local government officials, people’s organizations, national government agencies, such as Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), local media, church, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police (PNP), local businessmen, and the private sector.

In the round table discussion, issues, gaps, gains and recommendations were discussed in the SEP, like its framework, philosophy, administrative machinery, Environmentally Critical Areas Network (ECAN) Framework and Strategy, and ECAN Support Mechanism.

The PIO said that Governor Jose Alvarez, who sits as the chairman of the PCSD, and executive director Nelson Devanadera, both encouraged the participants, as well as the Palaweño people to support the protection of the province’s natural environment and its resources.

All recommendations from the participants will become the basis of amendments that will be proposed to R.A. 7611 that will made public on June 19, its anniversary.

Republic Act 7611, otherwise known as the “Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) for Palawan Act” is a “landmark legislation which had brought together multi-sectoral efforts in effecting a serious and sustained agenda that will provide for the continued existence of a unique ecological system not found in any part of the world.”

It is a pioneering work, which “spells out, with the strength and vigor of the law and the corresponding administrative machinery, how sustainable living can be done now, in spite of the many fora around the world which has so far produced volumes of documents but very little in terms of positive action for the environment.”

Former president Corazon C. Aquino signed it into law on June 19, 1992. This year marks its 23rd anniversary.

DOH-MIMAROPA chief and Puerto Princesa City vice mayor lead by example in free HIV testing

By Leilani S. Junio [(PNA), SCS/LSJ/EDS]

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Palawan, May 12 (PNA) -- Department of Health (DOH)-MIMAROPA Regional Director Eduardo C. Janairo and Puerto Princesa City Vice Mayor Luis Marcaida III set an example by accepting the challenge to participate in the free HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) testing conducted at the Ospital ng Palawan here on Monday.

Both officials submitted themselves to the voluntary HIV testing as part of bolstering awareness on the importance of HIV testing and also to lead by example so that they can encourage active participation not only of those who are at-risk with HIV in taking the test like a normal procedure which should not be stigmatized and feared about.

They agreed to the voluntary test after the press briefing that followed the opening and blessing of the first HIV testing hub in the region of MIMAROPA dubbed as “RED TOP Center” located inside the compound of the Palawan hospital.

The MIMAROPA region is composed of the island provinces of Mindoro Oriental/Occidental, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan.

According to Dr. Janairo, he agreed to the testing to be a way to entice other individuals to take advantage of the free HIV testing being offered by the DOH in different regions of the country as part of promoting the May 11-15 National HIV Testing Week.

The week-long activity will culminate with the AIDS Candlelight Memorial on May 17, where those who died due to AIDS, which is what HIV develops to, are remembered.

Janairo said it is about time that people will begin looking at HIV testing as a preventive approach and normal procedure just like taking CBC count, urinalysis and other tests in checking their health status.

“If we will be able to successfully do that, we can reduce the stigma and will not cause fear on the part of those who believe that they may be at-risk of HIV, and at the same time do our share in contributing to the goal of making MIMAROPA a safe tourist destination in the country," he added.

He explained that the RED TOP Center at the Ospital ng Palawan will continue to provide free HIV testing even after the National HIV Testing Week initiated by the DOH.

The HIV testing is done after a written consent of the subject person or persons.

Prior to the actual testing, a free counseling is also offered to the concerned subject/s. This is done by trained counselors who assure them that the results of the tests will be confidential or will not be leaked to protect potential HIV patients and avoid stigmatization.

The test results will be known two weeks after as the blood samples will still be taken to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Alabang, Muntinlupa City for further testing and evaluation.

Dr. Janairo also said that through the counseling, proper guidance can be given to the HIV patients on what to do, what help is available for them and how their conditions can be best managed like taking of anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs as daily maintenance.

ARV drugs slow down the virus which acts as destructive agents that destroys the immune system of the person infected with HIV.

The national government is providing free ARVs to help HIV patients cope with the high cost of treatment.

Janairo said that knowing the status of an individual is an important step in combating HIV as the person infected with it can have the chance to prolong his or her life or not be continuously weakened by other infections like tuberculosis, pneumonia and other highly infectious diseases.

Full-blown HIV infection that does not receive the required ARV medications leads to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) at a later stage which results to death.

Latest DOH statistics for February 2015 revealed that there were 23,709 confirmed HIV cases and more than a quarter (26 percent) of them were 15-24 years old.

Common mode of transmission is through bisexual, homosexual and heterosexual contacts.

Other modes of transmission include unprotected sexual intercourse with someone who is positive with HIV, having a transfusion with infected blood, sharing syringes and needles with someone who is HIV positive among those who use drugs.

PCG to acquire 4 'Sherpa' transport aircraft

By Priam F. Nepomuceno [(PNA), CTB/PFN]

PUERTO PRINCESA, PALAWAN, May 11 (PNA) -- In a bid to boost its air monitoring capability, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) announced that it is now conducting talks with the US military for the acquisition of four Short C-23 "Sherpa" transport aircraft.

Cmdr. Armand Balilo, PCG spokesperson, said that two of the aircraft will be brand-new while the remaining two will be "Excess Defense Articles".

He added that PCG inspection team will leave for the US by next week to check on the aircraft.

Balilo also said the Americans expressed interest in transferring the four "Sherpa" to the PCG.

The C-23s will augment the existing Norman Britten Islander planes being operated by the PCG for maritime patrol missions.

The "Sherpa" is a small military transport aircraft built by Short Brothers.

The C-23A and C-23B variants are variants of the Short 330 and the C-23B+ is a variant of the Short 360.

It can carry 30 crews and passengers and has a top speed of 281 miles per hour.

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