I first met Susan Santos de Cardenas when we were co-panelists in a MICE (the Tourism kind) conference in Cebu two years ago. She shared with me her experience in maintaining sustainable resorts in Peru called Inkaterra. There, they consult stakeholders before building the first hut, hotel or lodge in the forest. She told me about “carrying capacity” or holding capacity of an area, so that the ecosystem will not be altered.
But before Peru, she had been working in Boracay and tried in vain to get the resort owners to get together so that the water will stay blue, the sand will stay white and the whole town would be kept pristine. Alas, nobody listened.
Today, I hear that Boracay is no longer the paradise it used to be. Too commercial. And definitely not a place one would put a golf course. Golf course maintenance would definitely need too much water. But no one listened to her.
After Peru, she moved to Japan to join her husband on his assignment to the busy city as Consul General of Peru. While in Tokyo, she would go home to the Philippines and start another project—and this time hopefully she would catch the development early enough to influence the developers to respect Nature and think of sustainability.
She set her sights on Coron, Palawan where she knows real estate development has already been very active. She met the indigenous people of Coron, the Tagbanuas, who shared with her their many beliefs and age-old practices that has kept their island the way Nature intended it to be.
One example is the respect for nocturnal animals. At sunset even nature has to rest. And the nocturnal creatures use the time to look for food. But in developed resorts where a karaoke bar is open until the wee hours, these night creatures cannot do their normal routine, may not be able to eat, and may die. For this reason, the natives wish that tourists observe the peace and quiet after sundown.
The same goes for fishing. Even the sea has a period of rest when fishermen allow the fish to reproduce and fisherfolk should not be exhausting every chance to bring back fish for commerce.
Sadly, with cyanide fishing, even small fish are caught together with baby sharks. Someday, we will no longer have fishing grounds because we just overfish or catch more than what we need from our waters.
The Coron initiative started by Susan is admirable as it was begun even with no certainty of a funding source. Susan applied with the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) for some funds but was told her application was No. 10.
There were only nine grants given. So she went ahead anyway and asked friends for help, including her supportive spouse who used even their own money for this project. Then, she was surprised to get a call from UNEP that one of the grantees was disqualified and that Susan’s no. 10 slot had moved up, making her a legitimate grantee for The Coron Initiative. Good intentions surely bring good karma and pleasant surprises.
So with her UNEP grant tucked under her belt, Susan got her group together to continue the work in Coron. I have not been to Coron yet but I surely am looking forward to visiting.
I remember when Boracay was still quiet, and lights were out at sunset. That was 1989, I think.
We brought flashlights if we needed to walk by the seashore after sunset.
I was in Bohol last year and we also observed “lights out” after six, at least where we stayed in Panglao Island. Imagine what we deprive the nocturnal creatures when we stay up till late. If we must maintain a sustainable resort or lodge, we must also respect the quiet these natives are used to. After all, we are the invaders or immigrants in their ecosystem.
I am glad that Coron is on Susan’s list despite her frustrations with a failed Boracay project. And we will need all the help we can get to maintain Coron’s natural state. We hope the natives are not outwitted by selfish investors and that an angel funder can protect the whole island by helping Susan and her team.
Just reading this and sharing it will already be helping the cause. Because someone out there will surely reach out and help Susan and the Tagbanuas.
Chit Juan is a founder and owner of ECHOStore sustainable lifestyle, ECHOmarket sustainable farms and ECHOcafe in Serendra , Podium and Centris QC malls. She also is President of the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines and President of the Philippine Coffee Board Inc., two non-profits close to her heart. She often speaks to corporates, youth and NGOs on social entrepreneurship, women empowerment, and coffee. You can follow her on twitter.com/chitjuan or find her on facebook:Pacita “Chit” Juan. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.