Book captures Palawan at the crossroads of nature and progress

Book captures Palawan at the crossroads of nature and progress
By Walter Ang
March 15, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Palawan is known by ecotourists and travelers for its limestone cliffs, underground rivers, and dive sites featuring sunken World War II battle ships. For businessmen and investors, Palawan is known for providing millions of tons of fish for the country, the Malampaya gas fields, and its pearl farms.

To introduce an overview of these aspects of Palawan to a wider audience and as a tribute to their home, the Provincial Information Office of the Provincial Government of Palawan has come up with a coffee table book titled "Palawan: Land of blessing."

The book features photographs by Neal Oshima and contributing photographers that capture "places and faces, coastlines and communities, sea creatures and school children, the mavericks of today and the leaders of tomorrow."

It is a testament and commentary as to where Palawan is now in its history as it straddles burgeoning infrastructure, civic and technological developments against preserving its environmental and cultural heritage. The book's text, written by Alya Honasan and edited by Thelma Sioson San Juan, traces the province's origins, then inventories its resources, peoples, and developments in healthcare, education, and social welfare, among others.

Love letter
But also, it is a love letter from a native son. The idea for the book came from Governor Joel T. Reyes, who was born and raised in Coron, Palawan when "it still had no electricity and the rare arrival of a cargo boat from Manila was regarded as a special occasion."

Reyes followed his family's political lineage and was vice governor of Palawan from 1992 until 2001. He assumed the governor position from 2000-2001 when then incumbent Gov. Salvador Socrates died in an airplane crash. He became governor in the elections that followed in 2001. His third and last term will end next year.

The book's concept had been there ever since he became governor. "I finally had to rush the project when I realized my last term was about to end," he says with a laugh. "I was born and will die in Palawan. I wanted to leave a legacy for my home province."

He knows the land intimately, having overseen its 1.5M hectares and 800,000 people over the past two decades. "It's really a blessing to live in Palawan. It has bountiful natural resources and its location geographically shields it from most of the calamities that pound the rest of the country. We are not exposed to typhoons and we don't get earthquakes. We have an abundance of beauty and peace," he adds.

This husband to Clara "Fems" Espiritu and father of three waxes nostalgic for the outdoor games he used to play as a child, of lighting petromax (gas-powered lanterns) at six in the evening, and of swimming and fishing instead of "the computer games that kids these days play."

While he notes that Palawan's unique location and "isolation" has prevented it from the exploitation of fast-paced development, he understands the need for technological advancement. For example, given the province's 1,700 islands, cellphone service has greatly improved communications. "Modern technology has made Palawan more accessible, not just to the rest of the Philippines but to the rest of the world as well," he says.

This intertwined passion for preserving the past and moving forward has produced the book and amplifies his efforts as chairman of the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), a position he's held since 2007. "We are a policy-making and regulatory body created to ensure that all projects implemented in Palawan are environmentally sustainable. We have to prevent the depletion of natural resources and continuing environmental degradation," he says. "This is one way where we can take advantage of the benefits of technology and still sustain our culture and traditions."

At the book's launch held in Ayala Musuem, Makati City, pledges were received for the benefit of Heart (Helping Educate At Risk Teens and families) Foundation, a Palawan-based anti-drug abuse organization. Proceeds of the book sales will benefit a trust fund that will be established to help protect the environment in Palawan, specifically, the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park?a world heritage site southeast of Puerto Princesa City under the supervision of PCSD.

Close to a thousand square kilometers, the reef is poised to rival Australia's Great Barrier Reef with its diverse ecosystem that is home to over 1,000 species (many considered as endangered). Aside from being a marine sanctuary, Tubbataha is also renowned for being a bird sanctuary.

For details, call 09175026048.

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