There are not too many tourism sites in the country that have successfully transitioned from mere destinations into iconic global tourism brands. Our natural wonders are many and we are host to some of the most spectacular beaches in the world. But the transition from a mere destination into a destination with a global appeal is tough and challenging. Boracay, Caramoan, the private playgrounds of the rich etcetera. The list is not really long.
The marketing hurdles that have to be overcome, the tough development work that must be done before a tourism site gets a global appeal make this policy a no-brainer: tourism sites that have captured a sizable share of the global tourism traffic are to be protected and nurtured through public and private responsibility. From an economic and environment sense, that is the best policy to do.
But in the Caramoan Peninsula – which is the general area in Camarines Sur that hosts the world-famous Caramoan water sports site – illegal mining, quarrying and logging (and all the greed and violence that are the natural offshoot of illegal mining/quarrying/logging),make up the scourge that threatens the tourism paradise. Frenzied appeals have come from the provincial government and these can be summed up in one word – Help.
Four mining-related killings, in fact, took place last March in Lahuy, an island in the Caramoan Peninsula that is part of a national tourism zone (and therefore a protected site), according to Gov. Luis Miguel Villafuerte. The killings remain unsolved.
The center of the brazen and unabated illegal mining and quarrying, says Villafuerte, is Caramoan town itself. Photos sent by the governor to the PNP top brass had documented the rampant quarrying and mining in certain barangays of Caramoan town. The photos were part of a letter-appeal sent by Villafuerte for urgent PNP action against those behind the illegal activities.
The move of the Sanguniang Panlalawigan, the passage of a strongly-worded resolution which declares that Caramoan is “a mining and quarrying-free zone,” was aimed at propping up the governor’s drive against illegal mining and quarrying. But action from the PNP leadership or support from the national government to help save the slice of tourism haven, sadly, has yet to come. The SP declaration is backed up by a body of presidential proclamations and laws that, ideally, serves as a buffer against environmental despoilers. But at the law-enforcement end, it is not taken seriously.
To the utter shock of the governor and the provincial legislature, what has come to their offices is an order from the National Police Commission that stripped the country’s youngest governor of his powers as a Napolcom deputy for Camarines Sur. The sad turn of events has been a puzzle to civil society and the tourism groups that are at the forefront of efforts to save the protected environmental site from illegal mining, quarrying and logging.
Two-bit illegal miners, surely, cannot orchestrate the move to blunt the efforts of Villafuerte and the SP to stop the illegal activities in the Peninsula and save this slice of tourism paradise. There is a “ big fish,” behind the illegal mining and quarrying, one with enormous political clout. In his letter to the PNP, Villafuerte did not mince words on who that powerful personality might be.
In his letter to the PNP top brass, Villafuerte identified Partido Construction, “a known favored contractor of Cong. Fuentebella,” as the culprit behind the illegal activities in the protected environmental site.
“The inaction by the PNP bolsters the fact that Partido Construction is in connivance with the PNP, or the PNP is protecting Partido Construction’s illegal activities,” the young governor said in his letter-appeal to the PNP.
The “Cong. Fuentebella” in the letter is former Speaker Arnulfo Fuentebella, the patriarch of a major political family that has led the so-called “Partido area, ” or the province ‘s 4th congressional district, for close to a century. Former Speaker Fuentebella ended his third House term in 2013 and was replaced by his son William Felix. The Fuentebellas’ century-old grip on their district was nearly broken by actor Aga Mullach, who ran, and narrowly lost, to William Felix in the last congressional election.
The former speaker was in the news recently. He was named by Janet Napoles in her signed affidavit as one of her legislator-cohorts. Napoles alleged she dealt with the former speaker in 2004 through a project implemented by the Department of Agriculture. The COA special audit report on massive PDAF irregularities also questioned the allocation by Fuentebella of more than P18 million of his pork barrel to a dubious NGO named Partido District Development Cooperative Inc.
Partido Construction. Partido Cooperative. In that part of CamSur, it seems, there is hardly a major entity or enterprise that is not named Partido. In fact, the government corporation that was mandated to modernize and develop the district—and lift it out of massive poverty—is called Partido Development Authority (PDA). Before he replaced his father in Congress, William Felix administered the PDA.
What, this is interesting, has been the track record of the PDA?
From 2008 to 2012, losses incurred totaled P160 million.
The COA said that PDA has an outstanding foreign obligation of P1.15 billion.
These Partidos, it appears, have only served the interests of one party, a long-entrenched political dynasty.