The tourism boom in our country is in an all-time high. Backpackers and tourists from all over the world come to our country to visit our magnificent beaches and other attractions. Locals have also increased the statistics quite well. Tourist spots are being discovered more frequently and the influx of guests, responsible or not, is unstoppable. Tourism is a business opportunity for investors and capitalists who would build concrete structures, promise to employ locals, and soon monopolize the tourism in an area. Commercial buildings and modern resorts might be a sign of progress for most of us but its ill effects to the environment can only be felt after more than a decade. (Hello, Boracay!) The Department of Tourism has a new approach to mitigate the negative effects and maintain a sustainable livelihood to the locals—Community Based Eco-Tourism or CBET.
Ecotourism refers to a form of sustainable tourism within a natural and cultural heritage area where community participation, protection and management of natural resources, culture and indigenous knowledge and practices, environmental education and ethics as well as economic benefits are fostered and pursued the enrichment of host communities and satisfaction of visitor. Take note that on the definition, protection and management of natural resources supersede the satisfaction of visitors.
R.A. 9593, otherwise known as the Tourism Act of 2009 has already envisioned CBET to be an integral part of the Implementing Rules and Regulations. One of its objectives is to “Develop responsible tourism as a strategy for environmentally sound and community participatory tourism programs, enlisting the participation of local communities, including indigenous peoples, in conserving biophysical and cultural diversity, promoting environmental understanding and education, providing assistance in the determination of ecotourism sites and ensuring full enjoyment of the benefits of tourism by the concerned communities”.
The 11 islands in Barangay Panubigan was closed to the public since December 2016, the City Government of Zamboanga had been doing assessments and the tourism management plan. People in Zamboanga and from the backpacking community could not wait any longer for the reopening of the islands to the public. A technical working group had been given the mandate to create the tourism management plan and its formal launching is much awaited. Through an exchange of emails, Ms Sarita Sebastian, City Tourism Officer said “The technical working group is on its final stage in the preparation of the operational plan as guided by the process under tourism development. It is not yet open for the public.” However, tourists had been going in and out of the 11 islands through different routes despite the prohibition of the Mayor’s Office. This is evident in the social media post of those who had been there recently. Most of them toured without the knowledge of the City Tourism Office and Department of Tourism through contacts that are not affiliated to any registered tour operator.
We visited the tombs of their ancestors dating back a few hundred years old in the islands that were never accessible to the public. Mr Mhoy Bua told us the stories about the simple life that they live in the islands. Bobo Island, one of the inhabited islands with a small community and a mosque was our venue for lunch. While our companions went to the interior of the island for the research, Dave Ponce and I grabbed the chance to enjoy the breathtaking view and interact with the locals. We chanced upon a few women who were grating cassava which is a staple food in the community and a replacement for rice. There are no rice fields in the islands. I was surprised to know that it was Dave’s first time to witness how grated cassava is prepared, something ordinary for me but made him wonder in awe. It is important that tourists are able to interact with the locals so that they can have a glimpse of the circumstances that the locals experience each day. A chance to understand the culture of other people may help enrich the experience of visitors.
Our group was served with a basket of freshly cooked crabs, grilled fish, and rice wrapped in banana leaves for lunch. A buffet like the one we had can be prepared by the community which can be another source of income if sold to tourists. Fresh from the nets of fishermen, the crabs were fat and juicy. The CBET model will open opportunities for additional livelihood and will give visitors a more rustic feel of the tour. Elders from the group showed us their papers while talking to us about how they wanted to operate the tours in coordination with the Barangay LGU and City Government. Their plans were clear but need some improvement. Knowing the capacity of the LGU, the elders are willing to coordinate and dialogue with the authorities to enhance the tourism management plan of the 11 islands.
On March 20, 2017, the Department of Tourism conducted a CBET Training to the residents of Barangay Panubigan. Additional capacity building sessions can still be rolled out depending on the need of the community. During my visit after a few weeks, the community made a lot of progress by creating their own people’s organization and finalizing their papers for submission to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). Hopefully, the new knowledge of the community will be maximized in order for them to fully benefit. A registered people’s organization will open opportunities for capacity building and project funding from government agencies and non-government organizations.
CBET has now become a trend around the country. During my last visit in Anda, Bohol, our guided tour to Lamanok Island became more meaningful because of our local guides who is well-versed with facts and information about throughout the tour. The bamboo pathway leading to the verdant mangrove forest were well-maintained by the local people’s organization. Paddle boats and uniforms were also provided by an international NGO. The integrity of the finances of the organization is also assured because of the financial management training that they received. The CBET model not boosts the tourism industry in our localities but also empowers communities.
(The 11 Islands is still CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC according to the City Tourism Office. The technical working group is on its final stage in the preparation of the operational plan as guided by the process under tourism development. Our trip was organized for an on-going research on the genealogy of the locals.)
Thanks to Dave Gramatica for arranging this trip and to the council of elders for guiding us.