Countryside tourism: Pollution more disastrous than subversion
FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel Abalos (The Freeman) - August 26, 2019 - 12:00am

When there is a long weekend, more often, we find ourselves longing to explore the countryside. Or, at the very least, we, the urban dwellers, spend time with our loved ones in our home provinces. Sort of a reunion, in our long weekend visits, not only that we feel nostalgic, we also explore new interesting places. Some though have remained raw while others are already well developed.

On the other hand, those who are financially blessed will always find themselves in their preferred holiday destinations. The fully developed and conspicuously advertised places like Boracay or El Nido, Palawan.

Indeed, in every long weekend visit, just like what we had, it is becoming more obvious that tourism has finally found its mark in the countryside. However, there are glaring disparities between spots in terms of patronage. For instance, on our (me and my buddies) way to Tangculogan, Bais City in Negros Oriental (my birthplace), we went to Bato, Samboan via Moalboal and Badian.  Notably, there were a lot of vans we meet shuttling tourists from Oslob to Badian.  From the looks of it, foreign and domestic tourists alike were just too excited to go canyoneering or to simply take a dip at the cold and running water of Kawasan Falls after an early morning swim with the whales or “butandings” in Oslob.  What a good sight to see. So vibrant, so inspiring.

Onward to my birthplace, however, we had mixed emotions. Yes, dolphin watching is still exciting and the white sand bar in Manjuyod still captivates. Remarkably though, we could hardly see foreign tourists. We can only surmise that, probably, this is largely due to some reported skirmishes in the mountains of the northern towns of Ayungon and Tayasan (which are 50 to 60 kilometers away) and the city of Guihulngan (which is more than 100 kilometers away). So far away.

This development, however, is still good news to the countryside. Remember, the countryside is not a preferred destination of most moneyed foreign tourists. Why? Even skirmishes several hundred kilometers away from a peaceful tourist destination will always warrant negative travel advisories from other countries. So that, the countryside relies so much on domestic tourism as local tourists understand better the situation in the rural areas.

The same is also true in Surigao del Sur. As we all know, Surigao del sur is one of the country’s provinces that is at the receiving end of the New People’s Army’s (NPA) atrocities. Sadly though, while such encounters happened only in the mountains of two adjacent municipalities, the perception that the entire province of Surigao del Sur is so dangerous for residents and tourists alike pervade. So that, last year, while local tourists (me, together with some friends, included) came in droves and took a dip at the beautiful beaches of the islets in Britania, San Agustin, not a single foreign tourist can be found. The same was true in Barangay Diatagon, Lianga, where Bao-bao Falls is.

However, the similarities between the tourism potentials of the City of Bais and the Municipality of Manjuyod and the municipalities of San Agustin and Lianga in Surigao del Sur end there. While these places are all truly peaceful or safe for everyone, the City of Bais and the Municipality of Manjuyod have a deleterious concern to address. An ethanol plant right at the boundary of the City of Bais and the Municipality of Manjuyod is freely releasing its black and muddy liquid waste into the Bais North Bay.  This pollutant has turned the sand a tad brown and the seawater a bit murky in several islets in the area.  Consequently, the poor fishermen were badly affected. Their livelihoods were severely diminished.

Agreeably though, factories in the countryside are providing livelihood to the rural folks.  Obviously, it prevents rural exodus. However, we can’t just simply provide wages to a few and kill the livelihood of the rest. There must be some ways to create a win-win situation. Remember, the Manjuyod Sandbar which is just a few kilometers away, is now drawing tourists. With such popularity, tourism in this part of the province can flourish and those who are poor and have become easy recruits of the NPAs can find some sources of livelihood (just like the fishermen of Oslob) in this industry and stay away from criminal activities.

Apparently, therefore, countryside tourism can truly solve insurgencies. Pollution, however, can surely kill countryside tourism.

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