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The Great Provider that He is ... God has blessed us with such an abundance of natural resources that there is enough for everyone to live by. Why then is there still so much hunger and deprivation everywhere?
We live in a finite planet. And, if we do not learn to share and nurture what we are blessed with it will be a “tragedy of the commons” repeated over and over again. The tragedy of the commons is a metaphor that illustrates how free access and unrestricted demand for a finite resource ultimately dooms the resource through over-exploitation. This occurs because the benefits of exploitation are enjoyed by a few to the detriment of the greater good. This, in turn, causes demand for the resource to increase until the resource is exhausted.”
In the Philippines, the sustainability of ecotourism is endangered by local communities largely dependent on illegal fishing/logging and other acts of environmental degradation for their hand-to-mouth existence and survival.
One of the solutions to this serious problem is to make ecotourism replace illegal and destructive forms of livelihood. Nature + Nurture.
Ace Durano, Secretary of the Department of Tourism, explains, “This advocacy should be done with urgency, commitment and universal appeal. In short, there is a race against time to make the ‘destroyer’ become the ‘protector’ of nature.”
But how do we make the local community that rapes the environment be the same local population that protects our country’s natural assets and attractions?
GREET and Turismo Mismo
“The first step is to level the playing field by giving the local community easy access to skills, capital, market opportunities and values formation,” says Durano.
With this in mind, the Department of Tourism launched twin programs to help these local communities and their natural assets become environmentally-sustainable, economically-viable and socially-equitable so they could better promote and safeguard their respective ecotourism sites.
The Grassroots Entrepreneurship and Employment in Tourism, or GREET Program, was conceptualized by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to enhance livelihood opportunities for ecotourism communities and its young entrepreneurs after her visit and interaction with the whale sharks of Donsol in 2006.
In rationalizing the GREET program and its mandate to award grants Arroyo stated, “We came up with the GREET program because we, Filipinos, smile a lot, greet a lot, and always welcome visitors with ‘Mabuhay.’ The pioneering spirit is so alive in our youth that many of them want to be explorers, guides, and trailblazers. This fund can help them realize their dreams and generate interest in undiscovered treasures that dot our beautiful land.”
Arroyo believes that God has gifted us with spectacular nature sites that we don’t have to build multi-story buildings to draw in tourists. And there is a big tourism market that sojourns to areas unspoiled by commercial development.
She attests, “Donsol which I have just visited is only a sample. We still have many Donsols, plenty of Boracays, Siargaos and El Nidos waiting to be discovered in the Philippines. In these beautiful places, a single umbrella, one banca, and a simple hut make for an unforgettable experience. This is our competitive advantage. Other countries may have infrastructure muscle, but powerful and rich as they are … they can’t craft synthetic sunsets or artificial marble sands.”
“Thus,” Arroyo exhorts, “I am asking ecotourism warriors to step forward so that together we can realize your dream and together we can conquer the world.”
Turismo Mismo, on the other hand, is an advocacy program that underscores the role of tourism in uplifting the lives of the local populace. Townsfolk in rural areas are prone to experiment on empty promises of the different ideologies in their search for answers to a better life. So they become easy prey to community organizers of different fronts for communism, socialism, and other isms but eventually end up hard-pressed and in a worse situation. Fortunately, many of these rural areas have natural assets in their midst that can become the answer in their search for a better life if managed properly.
“Our message to them is ‘Turismo Mismo!’ --- Tourism is the key to a better life, not the other isms,” asserts Durano.
The pilot area: Donsol
The sleepy town of Donsol, Sorsogon struggles to maintain balance between embracing progress and preserving its heritage.
Donsol is endowed with a hilly and rolling terrain, making the people thrive in the production and export of rice and copra, making Donsol a major food supplier in the area. Not to be outdone are the abaca and hemp industries, supplying high grade products such as rope and paper. Added products from these natural resources are handicrafts and souvenirs for Donsol’s tourists.
Nature has also blessed Donsol’s waters, making it a home for multiple fish species and marine mammals. These waters continuously feed Donsol’s inhabitants by providing tons of fish per year, which the people use for subsistence, and also sell for added income.
The Donsol seas are also home to one of nature’s most absorbing creatures, the Whale Shark or “Butanding” (Rhincodon typus). Donsol is also known to have the most number of Whale Shark sightings in the world, thus making Donsol “the Whale Shark Capital of the World”.
“People in this town have known about the whale sharks for generations but paid little attention until marine biologists monitored the behaviour of the overwhelming number of these giant creatures,” said Allan Amanse head of the Butanding Interaction Officers (BIO).
Large but gentle, and thoroughly enchanting, the Whale Shark attracts a large number of tourism and environmental visitors to the area, again providing Donsol residents added revenue and tourism potential.
“The fishing village was suddenly flooded by divers and tourists who wanted a glimpse of the world’s largest fish,” Lamberto Avisado Jr., president of the Butanding Boat Operators Association (BBOA) reminisced.
Donsol is also gifted with hectares of mangrove forests as well, providing habitat for a diverse collection of swamp species; further testament to the vast natural biodiversity of the area. These mangrove forests are an added tourist attraction in itself, on account of the fireflies which have made the mangroves their home. At night, the natural light emitted by millions of fireflies illuminate the mangrove line, in yet another simple yet fascinating display of nature’s beauty.
Donsol, however, is not without its share of problems.
Located along the Philippines’ typhoon belt, Donsol almost always experiences the wrath of every typhoon that passes the Philippines. After such storms, the people of Donsol struggle to rise from the destruction brought about by floods and strong winds. During this time, the fishing is difficult, and the Butanding which attracts the tourists temporarily moves to calmer waters.
Thus the tourism which adds revenue and life to Donsol becomes a seasonal matter, almost non-existent during the stormy months.
In addition, the people are forced to survive on reduced resources, as everything from food supply to the raw materials needed for Donsol’s industries are depleted by the storms.
The Donsol experience
In November 2007, the Department of Tourism (DoT), through the Philippine Convention and Visitors Corporation, launched the Turismo Mismo! Advocacy campaign for sustainable ecotourism by awarding GREET Program grants. The BIO received 10 sets of diving suits and other paraphernalia. While, the Tinanogan Mangrove Planters and Fisherfolk Association received an initial batch of 15,000 seedlings/propagules from the Department of Natural Resources (DENR).
The BBOA led by Avisado received assistance in the form of boat improvements for the 41 fishing boats so it can accommodate tourists for the peak season. Wooden seats, wooden flooring, and tarpaulin roofing were installed to make it more comfortable and safer for tourists. Propeller guards crafted from stainless steel and fiberglass were also installed to protect the whale sharks from getting clipped and wounded by the rotating propellers. The DOT also subsidized the expenses for Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) to issue special permits for the boats to operate as passenger vessels during Butanding season, and licenses for the boat captains and mechanics.
Avisado was also awarded a substancial amount for his proposed Firefly Watching and River Cruise Services where he hopes to replicate the experience of cruising and dining along Loboc river.
Allan Amanse received 10 BIO kits composed of booties, shorts and jackets and was roundly applauded by BIO members.
Ma. Theresa Bernaser and Allan Amanse were awarded individual grants to pursue their entrepreneurship thru handicrafts and souvenir items.
Bernaser added, “Donsol is very fortunate to have been chosen as the pilot area for Turismo Mismo!. Rest assured that you can count on us to spread and share the seed of hope for a better life which you planted here in Donsol.”
Prior to the launch, more than 200 residents composed of boatmen, members of BBOA & BIO, mangrove fisherfolk and other tourism frontliners underwent a series of workshops to enhance their skills and capability in handling tourism products and services. Modules included the Value of Tourism, The Culture of Excellence, Disaster Management, Emergency Response, and Sanitation.
Turismo Mismo! shows the people of Donsol the importance of sustainable tourism as the avenue for progress to the future. Since nature has provided Donsol with both boon and bane in its shifting seasons, the people have to cope. The only constant and unchanging value which the people hold is what they have in themselves -- the friendly, warm, and hospitable spirit that the Donsoleños have, typhoon or no typhoon.
As sustainable eco-tourism is thus the future for Donsol, the DoT through the Turismo Mismo! program and its program partners, e.g., Department of Trade & Industry, Department of Health, DENR, Marina, the provincial government of Sorsogon & its disaster coordinating council, the municipal government of Donsol, Cottage Industry Technology Center, Philippine Trade & Training Center, the Design Center of the Philippines, the Technological Resource Center, Smart Communications, Philhealth, Mercury Drug, and Philtranco, continuously supports the area, with the final aim of making the Municipality a shining example of what the people, with proper government and private sector support, can achieve.
The good news spreads
Bringing the good news about tourism to other parts of the country, Durano has also awarded several grants to Cebu, Bohol, Negros, Siargao and Butuan. Taal and Pagsanjan are next.
As the good news of tourism spreads and successfully converts more destroyers into being protectors of the environment, it is hoped that the Nature + Nurture advocacy campaign for sustainable ecotourism proves that there is indeed a better way to a better life. Our battlecry, “Sagot sa Kahirapan --- Turismo Mismo!”
1. Butanding pic from Jonathan Bird c/o Allan Amanse
2. Some paragraphs were written by Leo Tanseco
Little known facts about the Philippines
Here are some interesting “beyond the usual” trivia, as lifted from the Philippine Department of Tourism’s travel sales manual, that even Filipino migrants in America and Canada might not be aware of.
The largest fish in the world, the Whale Shark, regularly swims to Philippine waters. Donsol, a fishing town in Sorsogon province, serves as a sanctuary to a group of 40 whale sharks (Rhincodon typus), which are considered as the largest fish in the world, measuring between 18 to 35 feet in length and weighing about 20 tons. Locally known as "butanding", whale sharks visit the waters of Donsol from November to May. They travel across the oceans but nowhere else have they been sighted in a larger group than in the waters of Sorsogon.
The world’s longest underground river system accessible to man can be found at the St. Paul National Park in the province of Palawan. It is 8 kilometers long.
The biggest game preserve and wildlife sanctuary in the Philippines is located on Calauit Island in Palawan, which has the largest land area among the Philippine provinces.
The world’s shortest and lightest freshwater fish is the dwarf pygmy goby (Pandaka Pygmaea), a colorless and nearly transparent species found in the streams and lakes of Luzon. Males have an average length of 8.7 mm. and weigh 4-5 mg.
There are 12,000 or so species of seashells in the Philippines. The Conus Gloriamaris or "Glory of the Sea" is the rarest and most expensive in the world.
Of the 500 known coral species in the world, 488 are found in the Philippines.
Of the eight species of marine turtles worldwide, five are reported to be found in the Philippines: the Green Turtle, Hawkbill, Leatherback, Olive Ridley, and Loggerhead.
Of the eight known species of giant clams in the world, seven are found in the Philippines.
The world's largest pearl was discovered by a Filipino diver in a giant Tridacna (mollusk) under the Palawan Sea in 1934. Known as the "Pearl of Lao-Tzu", the gem weighs 14 pounds and measures 9 1/2 inches long and 5 1/2 inches in diameter. As of May 1984, it was valued at US$42 million. It is believed to be 600 years old.
The world's second deepest spot underwater is in the Philippines. This spot, known as the Philippine Deep or the Mindanao Trench, is about 10,497meters or 34,440 feet below sea level. The Philippine Deep is in the floor of the Philippine Sea. The German ship Emden first plumbed the trench in 1927.
Both Tridacna gigas, one of the world's largest shells, and Pisidum, the world's tiniest shell, can be found under Philippine waters. Tridacna gigas grows as large as one meter in length and weighs 600 pounds while Pisidum is less than 1 millimeter long.
Lake Lanao is the second largest lake in the Philippines, probably the deepest in the country and is considered one of the major tropical lakes in Southeastern Asia. The lake is home to the endemic cryprinids, the species found only in the lake and nowhere else in the world.
Calbiga Cave – The Philippines’ biggest karst formations and one of the largest in Asia, the 2,968-hectare cave system is composed of 12 caves with wide underground spaces, unique rock formations and subterranean watercourse.
The Cagayan River or Rio Grande de Cagayan is the Philippines’ mightiest watercourse – the longest and widest river in the country. Small streams originating from Balete Pass, Cordillera, Caraballo and Sierra Madre Mountains meet other streams and rivers and flow to the Cagayan River.
The Philippines is home to some of the world's most exotic birds.
One of the most endangered species is the exotic Kalangay or the Philippine cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia), which belongs to Psittacidae or the family of parrots. Some cockatoos can live up to 50 years. They are known for mimicking human voices. Most of them measure 33 centimeters in length and weigh 0.29 kilogram.
Palawan bearcat is neither a bear nor a cat. Known in Southeast Asia as binturong, the bearcat is a species of its own, with population in the forests of Palawan, Borneo, Burma and Vietnam. It belongs to the family of Viverridae (civets). The Palawan bearcat has a long body and a pointed face leading to the nose. Its head and body measure 61 to 96 centimeters in combined length while its tail is almost as long. It weighs 9 to 14 kilograms and lives up to 20 years.
Calamian Islands, north of Palawan province, keep a species of deer that cannot be found elsewhere. Scientists referred to the hog deer in the islands as Calamian deer in order to distinguish them from other hog deer in the world. An ordinary Calamian deer measures 105 to 115 centimeters in length and 60 to 65 centimeters high at the shoulder and weighs about 36 to 50 kilograms. It is said to have longer and darker legs, compared with other hog deer.
The Philippine mouse deer, the world's smallest hoofed mammal, is found only in the Balabac Islands, south of Palawan. Locally known as Pilandok (Tragalus nigricans), this ruminant stands only about 40 centimeters at the shoulder level.
Flying Lemur, one of the most distinct creatures on Earth lives in the Philippines. It doesn't have wings but it can glide across 100 meters of space in a single leap. Like the lemurs of Asia, it moves around at night. Its head resembles that of a dog while its body has similarities with the flying squirrel of Canada. In Mindanao, people call it "kagwang". Around the world, it is known as colugo or the flying lemur.
The Philippine Eagle is the second largest bird on the planet (next only to the American Condor).
Angono Petroglyphs – This cultural heritage site dates back to circa 3000 B.C. and is the most ancient Filipino, or more aptly, prehistoric Filipino work of art. Besides being the country’s oldest “work of art” it also offers an evocative glimpse into the life of our ancestors. The site has been included in the World Inventory of Rock Art under the auspices of UNESCO, ICCROM and ICOMOS and nominated as one of the “100 Most Endangered Sites of the World.”
Camiguin province holds the distinction of having the most number of volcanoes per square kilometer than any other island on earth. It is also the only place in the Philippines which has more volcanoes (7) than towns (5).
Magapit Suspension Bridge is the first of its kind in Asia. It spans the Cagayan River at Lallo and is 0.76 kilometers long. The hanging bridge links the first and second districts of Cagayan going towards the Ilocos Region via the scenic Patapat Road on the Ilocos Norte-Cagayan Inter-Provincial national highway.
The Basilica of San Sebastian is the only steel church in Asia and was the second building to be made out of steel, next to the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
The largest bell in Asia hangs at the belfry of the 221-year old Panay Church. It is 7 feet in diameter and 7 feet in height, and weighs 10.4 tons. Its tolling can be heard as far as 8 km. away. It was casted from 70 sacks of coins donated by the townspeople as a manifestation of faith and thanksgiving.
At the Immaculate Conception Cathedral can be found the only existing pipe organ in Mindanao. The second largest pipe organ in the Philippines, the huge instrument took 2 years to built and was brought over by sea from Germany in 23 crates.
Lipa City in Batangas is dubbed as the “Rome of the Philippines” because of the number of seminaries, convents, monasteries, retreat houses, and a famous cathedral located in it.
Basilica of St. Martin de Tours in Taal, Batangas built by Augustinian Missionaries in 1572, is reputed to be the biggest catholic church in East Asia. It is so huge that it can house another big church.
Filipinos celebrate the world’s longest religious holiday. The Christmas season begins on September 1st, as chillier winds and Christmas carols start filling the air, and ends on the first week of January, during the Feast of the Three Kings.
Paskuhan Village in the province of Pampanga is Asia’s only Christmas theme park and the third of its kind in the world.
A smiling and caring people
Even if we still add on to this long list of reasons for tourists to visit the Philippines … nothing would be more compelling and worthwhile than to meet our people of 90 million smiling and caring Filipinos and be pampered by our homegrown hospitality right in our own backyard.
In a world that has become one small global village yet separated by indifference and self-centeredness, people from highly developed countries that live the rat race on a daily basis discover the smiles and affection of our kind and compassionate people refreshing and infectious.
Follow your heart and visit the Philippines. Be touched and rejuvenated by our beyond the usual warmth and share it with your loved ones back home.