Just as China and the Philippines trade diplomatic barbs over the Spratlys, Oriental Mindoro is gearing up to wage a legal battle to regain its lost territories.
The province is studying its legal options to reclaim Liwagao and Ngubat, islands off the southernmost Bulalacao town, from Antique.
Sangguniang Panlalawigan Ex-Officio Board Member Gideon B. Abuel, who is also the president of the Philippine Councilors League Oriental Mindoro chapter, said the islands “rightfully” belong to Oriental Mindoro.
“I rise to reverberate the call to settle all the territories which rightfully belong to the Province of Oriental Mindoro,” said Abuel during an SP session held in Bulalacao on June 10.
He said the islands were “erroneously attached to our neighboring province, which is the Province of Antique.”
Abuel said that fishermen from Bulalacao are now barred from “fishing within the grounds which are ours before.”
“We would like to regain our control, management and operation because the Island of Liwagao and the Island of Ngubat are really part of the Province of Oriental Mindoro,” Abuel said.
The islands are believed to have a high potential for tourism.
Liwagao, which lies southeast of Bulalacao, is approximately 100 hectares and has a long stretch of white sand. It has different types of quality pebbles, superb coral formations and a diverse marine ecosystem.
Its northeastern portion is thickly covered with coconut and commercial trees. Coconut crabs abound too on the island, which is also a favorite hatching ground of sea turtles.
Abuel said the transfer of Liwagao and Ngubat to Antique has no legal basis.
“There has never been any act of Congress that is ceding out (the islands) to the Province of Antique,” he said.
Acting Vice-Governor and SP Presiding Officer Patrick dela Rosa said he has referred the issue to the SP Committee on Laws, Ordinances and Legal Matters, headed by Bokal Abraham Abas, to study the legal options for Oriental Mindoro to regain control of the islands.