RDC-Bicol endorses plan to develop airport in gold-rich CamNorte town

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By Danny O. Calleja

LEGAZPI CITY, 1Oct2015 – The old air strip that served as a gold transshipment point during the 50-year peak of mining activities in Camarines Norte that ended in 1975 is being eyed for development into a commercial airport.

The Bicol Regional Development Council (RDC) has recently approved the conduct of a study that seeks to determine the feasibility of rehabilitating the Larap Airport in the gold-rich Jose Panganiban town to make it an alternative commercial air transport facility for tourists, traders and other travelers.

Based on the proposal for its development provided by the provincial government of Camarines Norte and supported by the local government of Jose Panganiban, the air strip could be developed into a Category 3C Aerodome Reference Code that can cater to AT72/Q400 aircrafts with 70-passenger seating capacity.

It could also be a substitute hangar and aircraft maintenance service provider for private planes and as staging site for Philippine Air Force air assets.

Agnes Espinas, the National Economic Development Authority regional director and RDC co-chair, over the week here said the conduct of the study will be endorsed to the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) for funding support.

The proposed project has also been endorsed by the regional offices of the Department of Tourism (DOT) and Department of Public Works and Highways under their Convergence on Tourism Support Infrastructure Program.

Larap is a mineral-rich coastal barangay which served as home to the Philippine Iron Mines (PIM), then dubbed as the biggest iron mine in Asia during the gold bloom nearly a century ago.

Amid that popularity of Larap, the village earned the moniker “Little Manila” owing to businesses operated by Filipinos, Chinese, Japanese and Syrians, among others, that flourished there.

After 50 years of mining from 1925 to 1975 PIM terminated its operations in Larap, leaving behind only mementos of that part of the village’s remarkable history, including the abandoned airport.

For itself, Jose Panganiban, starting then has grown into a thriving municipality with its gold mining industry, iron ore deposits and vast marine and aquatic resources serving as the backbones of its economy.

According to its mayor, Ricarte Padilla, they are eyeing for the Larap Airport more in terms of development into an international standards to serve as an entry point for tourists to the Triple C tourism cluster formed by the Bicol Regional Tourism Council (BRTC) under the auspices of the RDC.

This cluster is the alliance of three provinces—Catanduanes, Camarines Norte and Camarines sur, thus, the caption “Gems of the Pacific” for its geographical location along the rim of the Pacific Ocean.

It was formed by the BRTC late last year into a Tourism Development Area which the DOT has placed under its 2015-2020 National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP).

The NTDP, according to DOT Regional director Maria Ong-Ravanilla recognizes every part of Bicol as a tourist attraction, hence, the clustering that provides strategic directions and programs that would make local tourism products more competitive are formulated.

Its formation was formalized through the signing of a memorandum of agreement among governors of the three provinces which ensures the commitment towards working with local government units and the private sector into the pouring in of more tourism development investments.

Improvement of market access, connectivity, destination infrastructure.

“Enhancement of tourism institutional, governance and industry manpower capabilities, Ravanilla said, are the primary strategies that the BRTC are instituting toward this end.

A technical working group — composed of the regional offices for Bicol of the DOT as lead agency and NEDA, Department of Budget and Management, Department of Agriculture and Department of Interior and Local Government as among the members — works on these strategies.

There are two sub-TDAs under this cluster–the Caramoan-Catanduanes Tourism Link (CCTL) covering the tourism town of Caramoan, Camarines Sur and the entire Catanduanes area; and the Camarines Tourism Circuit (CTC) to cover the rest of Camarines Sur and the whole of Camarines Norte.

For the CCTL, Caramoan, which lies at the northeastern tip of Camarines Sur separated by Maqueda Channel from the island province of Catanduanes, covers Caramoan Peninsula where a group of exotic islets serving as a major ecotourism destination sits.

Catanduanes, on the other hand, is a pearly island in the Pacific that is virtually untouched, unspoiled and unexplored.

It is a promising travel destination owing to its ecotourism wonders, dive sites and sea surfing venues along its long string of palm-fringed beaches backed by jungle-covered mountains and crowned with jewel-like islets.

For the CTC, Camarines Sur has been a long-time tourist destination with its Camarines Water sports Complex and Peñafrancia Festival of Naga City while Camarines Norte is famous for its Bagasbas Beach, Calaguas Islands — known for pristine beaches of a long stretch of powdery white sand, and Jose Panganiban vis-à-vis Larap for its gold industry.

When the proposed project for the development of Larap Airport is done, Camarines Norte will be having two domestic airports—first, the former Bagasbas Airport recently renamed to Cory Aquino Airport in Daet, the provincial capital, which is now being readied for rehabilitation and upgrading to cater to turbo-prop type aircraft. (PNA)

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