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Saturday, January 19, 2019

Bantayan weighs what’s holding it back

BANTAYAN Island, while popularly known for its pristine beaches, faces several challenges before it can take off as a major tourist destination and spur more business developments.

These include power and water supply problems, infrastructure gaps, solid waste management issues, and the inability to secure titles for its land. At least, these were the ones raised by business leaders and government officials during the Bantayan Island Business Summit last Saturday.

The event, held in a resort in the town of Sta. Fe, was organized by the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry Bantayan Island Chapter (CCCI- BIC) with the participation of the Cebu Provincial Government.

“We are facing constraints on land titles. Hangtod karon nag suffer mi. Kanus-a man mi mag-enjoy sa among local autonomy (Until now, we suffer. When are we going to enjoy local autonomy)?” said Sta. Fe Mayor Jose Esgana.

Two special laws make it more challenging for businesses to take root in the island. Presidential Proclamation No. 2151, issued in 1981, declared the island a protected area, while Presidential Proclamation No. 1234 declared Tañon Strait as a protected seascape.

“Unsaon pag enjoy sa local autonomy nga naa may national government agency, specifically DENR, nga morag sila man hinuon ang mag control (How can we enjoy local autonomy when a national agency, DENR, acts like it’s in control of the island)?” added Esgana. He said there were times when some potential investors got discouraged by all the permits the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) required and all the prohibitions the agency set.

In 2010, DENR led a demolition of a seawall and kiosks in a resort in Sta. Fe.

Sought for comment, Cebu Gov. Hilario Davide III said that lifting these special laws would require congressional action. But to continue to support tourism in the island, the governor said he intends to start the construction of an airport in Bantayan Island within the next three years.

This would allow light aircraft to transport tourists, who would be spared a long road trip and a ferry ride to reach some of Cebu’s best beaches.

By next year, Davide said, the Provincial Government will form a technical working group to study the proposed airport and to coordinate with the regulatory agencies like the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines and the Mactan Cebu International Airport Authority.

As for the island’s power, Davide mentioned a proposal from an Australian company to build a solar power plant in the town of Madridejos, one of the island’s three towns.

As for water, he said the Province is initially considering desalination to provide safe and potable supply to the residents, not only in Bantayan Island but in other parts of the province, through a public-private partnership.

Former CCCI president Lito Maderazo underscored the importance of coming up with an integrated development plan in the area to support its economic activities. He founded the CCCI Bantayan Island chapter in 2013.

“We need to develop Bantayan Island as one,” he told some 100 participants from the private and public sector.

The three towns in the island, namely, Bantayan, Sta. Fe, and Madridejos have their respective core competencies: poultry, tourism, and fishing, respectively.

The island is still recovering from the effects of super typhoon Yolanda, which struck it in November 2013.
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