Friday, August 23, 2019

Rep. Aliping laments closing of Sto. Tomas to tourists

THE establishment of a barricade and warning at the entrance of the road going to Sitio Pungayan in Mt. Santo Tomas banning tourists to visit the area was considered “overkill” to the livelihood of the locals.

A barricade along the national highway going up to Kabuyao was installed by the Department Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Office in Benguet late last year, banning visitors from visiting the fictional “La Presa” village from the ABS-CBN telenovela, "Forevermore".

The barricade was in compliance with a Permanent Environment Protection Order (Pepo) issued by the Court of Appeals (CA) last year.

But Baguio Representative Nicasio Aliping Jr., who has a property in the area, said: “the Department of Environment and Natural Resources should not overkill” the livelihood of the locals, particularly the small businesses who depend on tourism.

“If I take a picture, does it violate environmental laws?” lamented Aliping. He said what the DENR should focus on is the monitoring of illegal mining activities within the protected area as well as apprehension of illegal loggers and those who causing forest fires.

With the Pepo, a maximum of 400 individuals and 120 vehicles in the ecotourism destinations within the forest reserves is only allowed.

Since December 2014, when Forevermore was at its height, residents claimed they had been serving around 1,000 tourists a day up until the end of the holidays. Small businesses mushroomed such as fish ball stalls, food stalls, vegetable stalls, and souvenir shops.

The Pepo took effect on July 15 last year, discouraging the fans of the telenovela from visiting the place which causes massive traffic, garbage problems, and the unabated sprout of business stalls in the protected forest reserve.

A memorandum of agreement between Tuba officials and PENRO Benguet in October last year stipulates the construction of a joint LGU-DENR project monitoring and forest protection field operation center at the same time serve as the community police assistance center.

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