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Philippines Looking at 'Ecotourism Zone' in South China Sea

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Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon of the Kalayaan Group of Islands, the Philippines-controlled Spratly Islands, points out the Philippines' claims in the Spratlys during a fundraising dinner to gain support for a proposed "ecotourism zone."
Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon of the Kalayaan Group of Islands, the Philippines-controlled Spratly Islands, points out the Philippines' claims in the Spratlys during a fundraising dinner to gain support for a proposed "ecotourism zone."

The Philippines has launched a campaign to push for an 'ecotourism zone' in the middle of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Under the plan, tourists could visit Philippine-controlled parts of the disputed area.

An American-based group called U.S. Pinoys for Good Governance proposed the idea of the ecotourism zone. The organization was set up to work for causes related to the Philippines.

China, Vietnam and Taiwan claim nearly all of the South China Sea. The Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei have partial territorial claims.

Eric Lachica is with the U.S. Pinoys for Good Governance. He says the proposed travel area would be the best way to settle the competing claims. He adds that each of the claimants has taken steps to develop islands and coral reefs in the disputed waters.

'Let's protect our interests. China has nine. The Philippines has nine. Malaysia has five. Vietnam has 48. So I think to protect what they've got, this is a perfect solution. It minimizes their military headaches, at the same time it improves their economic position.'

Malaysia, Vietnam and China all have places for tourists among the Spratlys and other islands in the South China Sea.

Mr. Lachica says he thought of the plan after meeting Eugenio Bito-onon, the mayor of the Philippine-controlled Spratlys. The islands are known locally as the Kalayaan Group of Islands.

Mr. Bito-onon told reporters in Manila this month that he has had this idea of 'tourism for peace' for some time.

'But in my capacity as a local government, as municipality of Kalayaan, that would take a long time for me to prepare to be able to really reach a level of convenience where we can bring tourists there. And without, also, the enabling policies at the national level, it would be difficult for me.'

Eric Lachica says the best situation would be to have the Philippine Senate approve a resolution, with the president's office offering its support. Then, he says, the Philippines could make a proposal to China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Eugenio Bito-onon says he can imagine tourists traveling from the main island of Thitu to small, nearby islands, also controlled by the Philippines. He adds that a planned shelter at Thitu could protect visitors during severe weather.

I'm Jonathan Evans.

Simone Orendain reported this story from Manila. Jonathan Evans adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

Words in This Story

capacity - n. a usually official position or job

tourist(s) - n. people who travel somewhere for pleasure

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