House panel passes bill declaring Kalayaan Islands as 'alienable, disposable land'

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The House Committee on Natural Resources passed House Bill 5614, covering nine islands and three reefs in 730,000 square meter area in the South China Sea. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 26) — A House panel has approved a measure seeking to declare the Kalayaan Island group in Palawan as "alienable and disposable land."

In a statement Tuesday, the House Committee on Natural Resources passed House Bill 5614, covering nine islands and three reefs in 730,000 square meter area in the South China Sea.

The bill was authored by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and House Majority Floor Leader Rudy Fariñas.

One of the eight islands in the Kalayaan Group is Pag-asa Island, where Chinese vessels were reported to have been seen in August. The island is within the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone of the country, and the seat of the Kalayaan municipal government.

READ: Alejano: Chinese vessels seen near Pagasa islands

The Kalayaan Island Group is also part of the Spratly Group of Islands, which is the subject of maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

Bill authors Alvarez and Fariñas claimed the declaration is urgent to promote permanent dwelling and a source of livelihood for its residents. The declaration, according to the lawmakers, will promote business opportunities and trade and industry in the area by attracting investors.

"The Kalayaan Island Group offers rich fishing grounds and contains significant oil and natural gas reserves," the introductory statement in the bill read.

Alienable and disposable lands are public domain lands which have not yet been classified by the President into either agricultural, residential, and commercial purposes.

The bill also aims to secure land for the residents in the municipality.

"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," the statement added.

The Kalayaan Island Group was recognized as a separate municipality in Palawan in 1978, under Presidential Decree No. 1596.

If the bill passes, the Environment Secretary shall promulgate the necessary rules and regulations for the implementation, under the Public Land Act.

The statement added that during the House panel's hearing, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Deputy Chief of Staff LtGen. Salvador Melchor Mison Jr. mentioned key points in the development plans for the island group amounting to ₱11.6 billion:

enhancement of island habitability ;

construction of a mooring space for Philippine Navy vessels and other vessels;

upgrading the island's defense structures ;

improvement of roads and air strip; and

provision of water, power and communication facilities.