By Jezza Nepomoceno
ILOILO – Governor Arthur Defensor Sr. is pleased that Agrarian Secretary Virgilio R. De Los Reyes ruled in favor of the transformation of Sicogon Island into a world-class tourism destination.
“The development of Sicogon will push through now that the land dispute has been resolved. With this, I am expecting the plan of Ayala Land and SIDECO to be in full swing,” Defensor said during his press conference on Thursday (March 3).
The proposed development of the island becomes clearer when De los Reyes approved the reclassification of some 334.64 hectares of land located in Barangays San Fernando, Buaya and Alipata, Carles from agricultural to commercial or tourism in an order dated February 29, 2016.
The converted land was part of 809.87 hectares covered by TCT No. 80191 (Lot A) which has been applied for exemption by Sicogon Development Corp. President Edgardo Sarrosa from Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) coverage citing Section 10 of Republic Act. 6657.
De los Reyes approved the conversion under 12 conditions and among these was the strict compliance with and implementation of the agreements made between Federation of Sicogon Farmers and Fisherfolks Association (FESIFFA), SIDECO and Ayala Land.
A Compromise and Framework of Agreement (CFA) signed on November 8, 2014 and the Implementing Rules Guidelines signed on July 27, 2015 among the parties involved provided for the following: resettlement, livelihood and training projects, agricultural land and employment.
It was also specified in CFA that 30 hectares shall be allocated for the resettlement site and P76-million shall be allocated for land preparation, construction of amenities in the resettlement site and disturbance compensation, if any.
The developer shall also allocate P38-million for the livelihood and training projects of FESIFFA members and some 40 hectares shall be allocated for identified agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) to be used for farming.
FESIFFA is composed of 784 household of ARBs and Non-ARBs. Of the ARBs, 253 conformed to the agreement, while 41 opposed.
But despite their resistance, the 41 ARBs will receive disturbance compensation in cash or in kind 60 days from the date of the receipt of the order by the developer.
“In deciding cases of this nature, the convertibility issue is not the only one being considered. Equally important is the plight of those who will be affected in the event the conversion application is approved,” wrote De los Reyes.
The proposed tourism project in Sicogon Island has been endorsed by Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. for it seen to contribute to “inclusive growth and reap economic benefits”.
Prior to the development of Boracay Island in Aklan, there was Sicogon. It used to be a popular tourist destination in 1970s with an old resort, clubhouse and airport.
At present, the proposed project is in accord with the ecotourism destination master plan. It covers a network of hotels and resorts, health and wellness establishments, bed and breakfast accommodations, retail and commercial establishments, villas, residential communities, and a resort town.
Due to its close proximity, the area is considered a jump-off point to nearby islands such as Gigantes, Carles and Bantayan, Cebu. De los Reyes wrote in his order that there is a definite growth market for the proposed project. It is also observed that the majority of inhabitants are engaged in fishing, while the alternative source of income is farming.
“With the development of the area for tourism purposes, it will create a multiplier effect in the entire region. A more stable and long term source of employment and business opportunities will be created for the residents of the area,” part of the order reads. ##