Preserving our Heritage

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By Roberto P. Alabado III

Planning Perspectives

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


HAVE you ever visited El Nido? Wandering around its islands and sea made me proud to be Filipino. Imagine the white sand beaches, towering limestone cliffs, clear and clean waters, rich marine life, archeological sites and no floating plastic or garbage in the sea and on the beaches. Now that is El Nido.... It is fast becoming a major tourist spot and we need to act now to preserve its natural land and seascape.

Last June 26, members of Ecotourism Council of Practice (COP) of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Philippines held a conference with the stakeholders of the municipality of El Nido. We discussed possible strategies and solutions to some of the arising problems of the local ecotourism industry, drawing from the wealth of experiences of other LGUs, WWF project sites as well as individuals from all over the country.

Many of what I shared were the "what not to do" and "learn from our sad experience" of Davao Gulf and its surroundings.

El Nido must strictly enforce local zoning ordinances, easements as well as water and sanitation policies to prevent damage to its beaches. Let us not be like the e-coli infested Times beach area of Davao City that is now teeming with urban poor communities, restaurants, motels and videoke bars that dispose their waste water and septage plus garbage directly to the beach. Let us not allow private developers like Emars to block public access as well as illegally reclaim the foreshore and illegally build permanent structures on public land.

Let us protect our natural beaches and protect these stretches from unscrupulous private developers. Let us not be like the beaches of Samal where you cannot enjoy a long walk on the beach because of private fences and jetties, where beaches are scraped of rocks ultimately killing corals and where corals are grounded to make so called white sand.

In tourist sites shared by several LGUs, a co-management body composed of LGUs, national government agencies as well as private sector must be institutionalized for smooth coordination and implementation of development plans in the area. Let us not be like the LGUs sharing Mt. Apo a few years back who were competing against each other by lowering their municipal access fees. I hope they now have standard and higher fees to really limit climbers to reduce the human impact on our national park.

Unlimited access will always result in the degradation of natural sea and landscapes. Let us impose high but justifiable users' fees to regulate access to fragile sites. These should be used more as a regulatory instrument to limit access and not just as a revenue generation activity. Users' fees must ultimately benefit the local communities and not just the LGU.

Willingness to pay for fragile and well preserved tourism sites is always high so let us not value these natural treasures cheap. Mt. Hamiguitan as a UNESCO Natural Heritage site must be protected by limiting climbers on a per day basis and high users' fees just like in Puerto Princesa Underground River.

Co-management of resources by the LGU and private sector helps protect resources as well can be profitable for both parties. The public domain of beaches must be retained while private land owners can fence in their resorts on their private land excluding the beach. Let the barangay tanods and local tourist police stroll along the beaches to secure the safety of the tourists. Resort owners can hold joint patrols with the LGU to protect the dive spots and marine sanctuaries from illegal activities. Although these are public domain it is to the interest of private developers to take part in managing these to sustain the attractiveness of their private resorts.

I remember then Mayor Hagedorn during our 2012 COP conference in Puerto Princesa telling us of the unmentionable cusses and curses aimed at him by disgruntled tourists who were not able to visit the visit the underground river which had a limit of about 900 visitors per day and how the sudden increase of visitors strained the tourism infrastructures of the city (it was standing room only at the passengers lounge of the airport). The workshop was able to come up with innovative solutions to help Puerto Princesa cope with the sudden arrival of tourists due to the designation of the Underground River as one of the new 7 wonders of nature.

Now that Mt. Hamiguitan is a Natural Heritage site of the world, I hope that its management plan will be able to preserve the world treasure. Perhaps Governor Malanyaon can give Lory Tan a call so that WWF can share its wealth of experiences and expertise in managing ecotourism spots as well as UNESCO heritage sites.

I believe that not only agriculture will develop our rural areas but ecotourism as well. However, ecotourism is a very delicate industry that can easily destroy the attraction that creates its wealth - talk about get-rich-quick schemes and hunger that will eventually kill (or cook?) the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Managing ecotourism sites will take a lot of expertise, new development paradigms as well active stakeholder participation to sustain its natural and cultural attractions. Our LGUs and private sector still have a lot to learn on what ecotourism truly means.

We have our own El Nido in our region - Mt. Apo and Mt. Hamiguitan. Let us work together according to the principles and standards of ecotourism and perhaps our grandchildren will finally get to see our majestic Philippine eagle soaring high in their mountain forests. rpalabado@gmail.com

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on July 10, 2014.

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