Honoring my mother | One Hand in My Pocket

LAST week, I was very fortunate to be invited to a two-day tour of two of Surigao del Sur’s famous spots: the Britania Group of Islands in San Agustin and the Enchanted River in Hinatuan. While both sites were equally breathtaking to behold, what struck me most was the way these places were managed so efficiently, from the point of view of Eco-tourism.

One of the jump-off points to an island cruise of the Britania Islets was aptly called La Entrada, Spanish for the entrance. At first I thought there must be a violation somewhere regarding building constructions in mangrove reserves, but when we got there, I found out that La Entrada had smartly curved through the mangroves, building around it without hindering much of its natural growth. The brackish water was clean and clear, and the mangrove trees all appeared healthy and green. Compared to other mangrove forests I have visited, there was no foul smell at La Entrada. Management has strictly enforced a clear policy of maintaining cleanliness in its premises, with strict fines for violators.

The Britania Group of Islands, as it is formally called, is actually 24 tiny islets and sandbars along the coast of San Agustin. From La Entrada (and other nearby resorts), the daily island cruise involves hand-picked stops to some islets that could accommodate a landing. These isles are well-maintained and unlike in the past, no one is allowed to stay overnight. All man-made edifices in the islands were likewise demolished to prevent pollution.

In the recent past, the Enchanted River in the coastal town of Hinatuan, had been one of the hottest tourist spots in Mindanao (along with Siargao). However, the influx of thousands of tourists trying to swim in less than several hundred meters of visible river had nearly damaged the ecosystem, until local government enforced a two-month cessation of all activities and closure of the tourist spot for rehabilitation. This has brought about the return of the river to its original splendor. Local community volunteers in the area attested that when the tourist boom happened, the coming in of tourists, as well as local and outside investors who put up food stalls and souvenir shops near the river, had nearly overwhelmed the sleepy town and polluted the surroundings. There was even a time when the blue waters of the river turned yellowish due to the dense human activity. Now, all food and souvenir shops are placed farther from the river. The deepest part where exotic fish abound is off limits to all, and only an indicated portion of the river is designated for swimming. Why this sudden shift to writing about local tourist destination peeps? There has been lots of chatter about the possible closure of our world-famous Boracay Island and its impact on the community. Truth be told, this proposed six-month closure of Boracay, for its rehabilitation is actually a nightmare-turned-reality for all who have huge investments in the area. Tourist travel agencies are the secondary “victims” of this move, as they have to deal with cancellations, rescheduling and most painful of all, refunds from local and international would-be visitors, who have booked in advance so they could swim and piss on its clear waters. Already, paid bloggers and mainstream media writers have begun spreading news, with statistics like how many thousand workers will be affected with the half-year closure. While this action is logically a media offensive perpetrated by the actors with vested interests, for those who have no investments whatsoever, it’s just another rock to throw at government.

I’m simply suggesting that before we take out our political shotgun and redden the already algae-green waters of the island, it should be noted that there have already been serious environmental studies since the 90s that have warned about the impending threat to Boracay’s ecosystem. Have the recommendations of these studies been addressed to? The lessons of Hinatuan and the Britania Isles are simple, a cash cow can only survive if it is kept healthy.

Posted in Opinion