PEZA cheers revived underwater park plan

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By Janina C. Lim

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THE PHILIPPINE Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) has welcomed the revived plan to construct an underwater theme park in Palawan, a project that has been shelved amid opposition from the local community and environmental groups.

PEZA Director-General Charito B. Plaza said Coral World Park International Resorts, Inc., the developer of the proposed project , “is now preparing submission of application to PEZA” after getting the application documents of the agency on Wednesday.

“They learned about PEZA and our incentives when they heard my presentation in Singapore with the European Industries of Asia as participants,” Ms. Plaza said in a text message on Thursday.

“Earlier, they don’t know which agency to run to which can give them the best incentives and support from government,” she added.

Asked if the project will still be in partnership with Viacom International Media Networks, the owner of American children’s television network Nickelodeon, the PEZA chief replied in the positive.

However, Viacom said it has no involvement in the renewed theme park plan.

“On 22 August 2017, we issued a statement indicating Viacom International Media Networks has mutually agreed with Coral World Park to discontinue the IP licensing agreement for the Nickelodeon-branded attraction and resort that was intended to be part of Coral World Park’s planned development in the western Philippine province of Palawan. Therefore, we have not been involved with this proposed development since then,” Adeline Ong, vice-president for Corporate Communications of Asia Pacific Viacom International Media Networks, wrote in an email reply to BusinessWorld.

Coral World has yet to respond to a request for comment.

Ms. Plaza said the company is looking to apply for the development of a mixed ecozone as the firm expressed plans to also set up a facility to manufacture air vehicles, among other business operations, in the proposed island site.

“The island they’re using is a former mining area so the place is stripped of trees. But in the their Nickelodeon theme park, it should be nature rich, so they will plant trees,” the official said in a phone interview.

Asked about the company’s target date for filing its application, the PEZA chief said Coral World is looking at submitting “ASAP” (as soon as possible) and may perhaps take place within the year.

To get the nod of the investment promotion agency, Coral World will first have to seal the approval of several other agencies, including the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development — the administrative body that serves to guide the local government of Palawan in its projects for the province; the Securities and Exchange Commission; and the Environment Department for its environmental compliance certificate, among others.

Once received, the PEZA board can approve the application immediately while the request to have the proposed ecozone declared will be elevated to the Office of the Executive Secretary.

Existing laws allow the establishment of an ecozone only through a proclamation order issued by the President.

Earlier, Viacom expressed intent to build a theme park in Coron, Palawan island. This will be part of a 400-hectare undersea development six meters below sea level.

Coron, which forms part of the Calamianes Group of Islands, is tagged a key marine biodiversity area of the country.

It is also the ancestral domain of the indigenous people of the Tagbanua tribe.

Aside from environment groups such as Greenpeace Philippines, former Environment Secretary Regina Paz L. Lopez has also thumbed down the project, citing its potential damage to Palawan’s biodiversity.