THE world will celebrate Tourism day on Tuesday, September 26. The United Nations General Assembly also announced and affirmed 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development – recognizing the role of tourism in all the three dimensions of sustainable development; Economic, Social, and Environmental. In such spirit, this 2017 World Tourism event intends to raise our awareness on tourism’s contributions to the life of communities, and of course, it’s accompanying challenges.
It was only my third month on the job when an American visited our office for inquiries. He was looking for a woman who would “accompany” him on his travels. I told him that he came to the wrong place; there is no "sex tourism" in La Trinidad or the whole of Benguet and the other Cordillera provinces. The middle-aged foreigner couldn’t accept a 27-year old guy lecturing him so he became unruly – our piercing stares, however, made him retreat away from our revered grounds.
I also remember living in Manila a couple of years ago for a few months because of some study. I lived like a local tourist in the Malate-Ermita area where I openly witnessed the so called "trade" – flesh for foreign bills, dignity for peanuts, a right for a night – the grim reality is hard to accept. Still, I just can’t stand the irony of tall buildings and casinos juxtaposed with the evident rat-like poverty that enabled the perfect atmosphere for such. So I tried becoming the unofficial hero in the block; every morning, I treated every street child I meet in my morning walk at the nearest 7-11. It almost became an ill-starred habit since, after a month, almost a dozen would wait in our frontage building for the warm meals. Unfortunately, I was not rich enough to sustain that unofficial feeding program. The experience taught me that “development” is not mostly economic – a town’s wealth is not measured by the number of capitalist structures, but really its beneficial social programs.
Tourism often encounters these challenges. It is not a secret that there are underground entities who are promoting our country as havens for these illegal activities. The tourism department clearly abhors those dealings (and we cannot simply be hostages to such image). Tourism, no matter how essential, cannot be an excuse for abuses; it goes against its very purpose of “uplifting” and empowering communities.
Based on the recently released 2017 Cities and Municipalities Competitiveness Index, the valley town of La Trinidad, Benguet is the most competitive among the 75 municipalities in the Cordillera. Overall, it ranked 33rd out of 1,340 assessed towns across the nation. I repeat, out of 1,340 in the country. Under the Economic Dynamism pillar, La Trinidad ranked 16th. The LGU only has to improve and modernize its business processing, advance its revenue collection, and invest on productive personnel to place in the top 5 nationwide. Great potential for the humble valley town which is sometimes an aberrant to the country’s traditional politics – the only town in the Philippines who voted for Miriam Defensor Santiago in the last elections. Plus, they are the dual residents of Benguet; being both iLTs and i-Baguios who do not reside in Baguio City (hehe).