SO our turboprop plane finally lands in Busuanga airport, and we are driven to Coron town proper to meet the rest of the green advocates assembled for the Green Leaders Forum. The two-day conference hopes to gather like-minded resort and lodge owners, operators, restaurant owners and tour guides to encourage green development or sustainable development in this still relatively unspoiled island.
Susan Santos de Cardenas, a Green resort advocate and her local partner Al Linsangan of the Calamianes Cultural Conservation Network Inc. (CCCNI), a working nongovernment organization, arranged for us to first visit the island of Coron, an ancestral domain of about 24,000 hectares awarded to the indigenous tribe, the Tagbanuas.
A short boat ride from Coron City (yes it is pretty confusing to have a city on Busuanga island and another separate island to have just one name—Coron) takes you to the beautiful, majestic limestone cliffs interspersed with mangroves and other kinds of vegetation. We stop off and walk along Smith’s Beach, named after a foreigner who wanted to buy the island but was not allowed to do so. It was named after him, anyway.
After a quick lunch prepared by our boatmen (yes they double up as caterers too), we head to Kayangan Lake and saw the need for a Tourist briefing center. For starters: we see an Asian tourist brushing her teeth from one of the boats after a sumptuous lunch I would guess. We call the tour guide and showed him an instant photo of his wards doing what is not encouraged. Then on our way up the steps to get to the vista point I see a smoker holding a lit cigarette as he was walking up the very steep natural staircase amidst the bushes and trees. I could not help but mind him and asked: “Are you smoking while climbing the steps? You could get a heart attack!” I said angrily. He dismissed my question and answered: “ I was here yesterday and the guide said it was alright,” he proudly reacted to me. This is why we need to teach responsible tourism. What if his smoking causes a wildfire? And where will he throw his cigarette butt, I wondered.
They always post in tourist spots: Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.
But sad to say, without proper briefing, these tourists forget that Coron is a sacred place to the indigenous tribe and that it is their home and sanctuary, and we are only visitors here.
There are empty plastic bottles in the water, some empty foil wrappers, and the usual “footprints” left by irresponsible visitors.
About 90 percent of Ingredients in local restaurants are sourced from without. Take for example the lettuce we had in our salad for dinner. It was bought in Puerto Princesa (eight hours by car) and the vendors in Puerto bought them from Balintawak, which probably was trucked from Baguio. Carbon footprint? So we plan to share organic farming practices to restaurant owners so they can be self sufficient.
But Linsangan’s group have started to make strides in community development: some four years ago the fishermen found fishing income to already be in decline so they shifted to offering banca tours, going out three times a week and earning about P1,200 a week. Al organized them into a cooperative so they could go out six days a week, charge less, accept carpooling or boatpooling tourists, and now they take home double their usual income. They also now own 15 boats and the project benefits 42 families.
Susan brought speakers from different areas of expertise: Caloy Libosada, an Asian Institute of Tourism director, birdwatcher and eco tourism practitioner. Caloy shared with the group that Palawan has about 100 endemic birds and millions of birdwatchers from around the world will find reason to visit Coron if only for this reason.
Eric Raymundo, an environmental practitioner shared best proven practices in energy-saving for hotels and restaurants such as using used oil for candles, and as furniture polish, using solar energy for lamps, using natural ventilation instead of airconditioning units.
PJ Aranador shared his award-winning designs using bio-mimickry, influenced by nature and also taking into account the preservation of the culture of the indigenous peoples—the Tagbanuas.
We hope that the stakeholders will be inspired by all this sharing and with a few more meetings hopefully we will see some action happening to keep Coron as green as it can be, and as sustainable as when its first inhabitants were born.
And to assure us that our efforts will not be in vain, we were met by like-minded green-minded locals among them are.