MANILA - A sugar-like sand and an abundant marine life are just some of the "treasures" in the highly-disputed West Philippine Sea.
Kalayaan Island Mayor Eugenio Bito-Onon on Thursday said these treasures in his turf remain inaccessible to many tourists, with at least 36 hours of travel time needed just to reach the island by boat from Iligan Bay.
Speaking to radio dzMM, Bito-Onon said the island's sugar-like sand surpasses that of the more popular Boracay Island.
"It is different from Boracay's. Kasi coral iyung white sand ng Pag-asa. Maputi siya. Minsan may portions na parang asukal na puti," he said.
The local chief added that Kalayaan's beach is teeming with fish. "Pwede kang mag-bait fishing lalo na pag panahon ng September to February, malalaki ang tanigue. Malalaki rin ang talakitok," he said.
The mayor added that crossing the high seas to reach Kalayaan Island is dangerous, and must only be attempted by a seasoned boat crew.
The local government is still developing a tourism master plan for the island, with the guidance of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC).
A group of youth recently visited the island in the Spratly archipelago to protest what they say is China's creeping invasion of the Philippine exclusive economic zone.
China was "strongly dissatisfied" by the protest, with Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang reiterating that Beijing has indisputable sovereignty over the Spratly islands.
The Deparment of Foreign Affairs has clarified that it tried to discourage the protest.
DFA spokesperson Charles Jose added that the Manila will continue its Hague tribunal case against China over competing claims in the West Philippine Sea. A final ruling could come within the first half of 2016, he said.
China claims almost all the South China Sea, believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas, through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam also have claims.
Manila has been trying to calm tensions heightened by Beijing's rapid expansion in the South China Sea - building seven artificial islands in the disputed waters.
Beijing has not recognize the case before the arbitration court in The Hague. The Philippine government, meanwhile, is confident that international pressure would eventually oblige China to comply with a ruling against it. -- With a report from Reuters