CYNTHIA Moreno, then the mayor of Aloguinsan town, defied the odds to develop the Bojo River, as no one believed the river’s tourism potential.
Now both Barangay Bojo and Aloguinsan town are getting international recognition because of the river that’s lined with mangroves and habitated by different species of birds.
“Pagsugod namo grabe ang resistance. Nobody loves change and nobody loves to go out of their comfort zone,” she said.
Even paddling tour guide Jamaila Alvarado, 32, was not convinced of the project.
She said she only attended the four-month training because of the free meals.
Alvarado, a mother of three, is an ecological guide of Bojo River Eco-cultural Tour.
For Paulino Cañete, 48, life was hard when they only depended on their meager catch as fishermen.
Before the Bojo River project came, the families of Cañete and Alvarado depended on the husbands’ catch as fishermen and the wives’ harvest as farmers.
Alvarado augmented the family income by cutting mangroves and trees along the Bojo River to sell as firewood or make as charcoal. Cañete boiled seawater to make salt and sell it.
“Di mi mosabot og bawal. Ang among giuna ang kakutoy sa among tiyan (We ignored what was unlawful. We were ruled by our stomach),” said Alvarado, a high school graduate.
When Moreno started their training in February 2009, the residents of Barangay Bojo resisted the changes.
One complaint heard was that the Municipal Government was only making their lives difficult. Another complaint heard was that the Municipal Government was only out to dupe the barangay folk.
Project consultant Joselito Costas was also suspected him of having plans to dig treasures buried along the riverbanks, on the pretext of training the locals.
Of the 400 plus barangay residents who underwent the training, only 52 stayed and made it, among them Alvarado and Cañete.
“Puslan man naligo na mi, manabon na lang mi,” said Alvarado who was then not fully convinced of what she got herself into.
Resistance did not end when they completed the training.
When they started dismantling the “garong,” or rocks that serve as artificial reef, to clear the river, they were threatened with bolos, said Rodney Carcuevas, president of Boho-Aloguinsan Ecotourism Association (Baetas).
With Moreno’s help, violence was averted and Baetas members prevailed.
When visitors started to come, the earning was not much.
They complained that they put in too much work for too little pay.
On Nov. 11, 2015, Baetas as, the sole nominee from the Philippines, received the Tourism InSPIRE award for Best Community Based tourism initiative for its serious commitment to sustainability principles and evident benefits to community members. It was announced by Pacific Asia Travel Association (Pata), as supported by United Nations Environment Program (Unep).
This year 2016 Bojo river cruise is again named one of the three in the Philippines, in 2016 top 100 sustainable destinations in the world.
Now the community is reaping benefits, and boosting the image of Aloguinsan.
Where before the river tour was just an alternative income for them, it has now become their main source, Alvarado said.
Before, they did not fish when they had to tour guests. Now, they can only fish when there are few guests.
Moreno pointed out the importance of the Bojo Eco-Tour--to protect the environment; to generate revenue for the community; to educate guests on the protection of the environment and let them have a good experience; and to promote tourism.
If we are going to translate the return of investment, it’s not just the money but also the protection and sustainability of the environment, Moreno said.
The community of Bojo also gets livelihood from the river tour.
This is the paradigm shift Moreno is advocating. She puts up a project that has a positive effect on the immediate community and beyond Bojo.
In the initial phase of the Bojo Eco-Tour, Moreno said, she lost heavily in the barangay in the elections.
With their success Moreno acknowledged all those who have helped her.
“I owe it to God. Everything happens in His time. (I owe it) to the community and barangay officials; and to the LGU, department heads the vice mayor and legislators,” she said.
Moreno was Aloguinsan mayor from 2001 to 2010, then vice mayor from 2010 to 2013. Her husband August Caesar Moreno is now the mayor and her son Ig-ig Moreno the vice mayor.
Rates for eco-tour is P400 per head inclusive of swimming and a tour.
At P650 per head, snacks and lunch are thrown in.
Eco-tour paddling guide Servilla Cavalida, 44, said that P150 of the “per head” amount goes to the guides and P70 to the municipal government.
The Tour has a carrying capacity of 60 guests a day.
Alvarado said that before they only travelled to Cebu City twice year, first in January for the Sto. Niño Fiesta and second in June to buy school supplies. They had to sell chicken for the P180 fare and goat to buy school supplies.
Now they can go to the city anytime, without selling chicken or goat.