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by Secretary Emmanuel Piñol
Chairman, Mindanao Development Authority

Yesterday, I took a long sea journey to visit two islands in Mindanao which I have never been to in my whole life - a small island south of Pitogo town, Zamboanga del Sur and a larger island in Zamboanga Sibugay.

The two-legged journey which started in Pitogo town at about 12:30 p.m. ended at about 4:30 p.m. in Olutanga Island.

On the way to Olutanga Island, I visited the uninhabited island of Panikian in Pitogo which is about 45 minutes by pump boat from the town proper.

The 3.6-hectare island is simply beautiful. It is comparable to, if not better than, Boracay, the famous island resort in the Visayas.

The only difference is Panikian Island is a protected area because Green Sea Turtles or Pawikan breed in the island.

The island is also a subject of a legal battle between the local government of Zamboanga del Sur and Pitogo and the family of former Governor Antonio Cerilles.

Pitogo Mayor James Yecyec said the small island is claimed by the Cerilles family because of a title issued in favor of an older Cerilles at the time when the former Governor was Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Hopefully, that issue will be settled soon because somebody has to take care of the beautiful island and protect the wildlife and Green Sea Turtles.

From Panikian Island, two pump boats brought me and the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) team to the island of Olutanga which has been identified as one of the proposed sites for the planned "Fish Centers" under the European Union-funded Mindanao Rise Program.

Olutanga does not have a good reputation, security wise.

It was previously known as the "Pirate Island" where sea pirates and sometimes members of the Kidnap for Ransom Groups sought refuge to hide from the law after every activity.

Mayor Arthur Ruste Jr., who is on his second 9-year-term, admitted that this was a problem which bothered Olutanga for so long, along with rampant illegal fishing in the area.

Things have changed under the administration of President Rody Duterte.

It was my first time to ride a pump boat without outriggers and I would be lying if I say I felt fine.

I was in fact uneasy and uncomfortable given the big waves that we encountered on the way to Olutanga.

To my surprise, however, the twin-engine pump boats without outriggers were fast and they rode the waves well.

Last night, after dinner, we sat down with all the local officials of Olutanga towns, including the 19 barangay captains, and listened to them.

The problems, gripes, concerns and requests burst like the waters exploding from a newly-opened dam.

I and the team listened. We took notes. Some of the concerns were acted upon right away with just a phone call to the concerned officials (at 7 p.m.) while others will have to undergo complete staff work.

Yesterday, I not only discovered beautiful and previously unheard islands but also heard the faint voices of people who live in the edges of our country.

Their pleas and cries make me more determined to visit other places and islands of Mindanao to see how people live and listen to their voices.

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