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PHILIPPINES’ LAST FRONTIERS - 1 S. Leyte gears up for responsible eco-tourism
Source: Manila Bulletin
Date: 2005-08-16
For the longest time, Leyte, in our ignorance, was simply MacArthur’s landing to make good his promise to return, and the hometown of Madame Imelda Marcos. We were therefore caught completely by surprise to find that in Southern Leyte, 2 ˝ hours away by land from the Tacloban airport, would be found truly one of the country’s last frontiers – brewing with a most admirable community spirit, with pride in its history, and vigilance in protecting its natural resources.

We came with Shanghai-based Consul to Great Britain Ian Sargeant to help judge the annual Miss Southern Leyte beauty pageant (won by Sherry Lou Vallinas), and found it not simply a beauty contest, but a training ground for the best ambassadors of goodwill the province could muster.

We took a boat ride along waters, pristine blue even right beside the homes on the water; encircled Limasawa Island, site of the First Mass in the Philippines; and were treated to an unscheduled dolphin show from large groups of dolphins jumping out of the waters for our benefit. We saw attractive mangrove swamps occupying an area of 334 hectares; fishing grounds in the three bays of Sogod, Cabalian, and Hinunangan with tuna, herring, lobsters, flying fish, Spanish mackerel, and shell fishes in abundance.

The aggressive Negros Forests and Ecological Foundation Inc. (NFEFI) reports that although less than 4% of old growth rainforest remains in Negros, that’s still 80,000 hectares and is the largest remaining in central Philippines. Over 67% of all Philippine flora and fauna can also be found in Negros and nowhere else in the country.

In an article on the Philippines, Shay O’Farrell, Chief Technical Officer of the British-based Coral Cay Conservation Organization (CCC) wrote:

"The Philippines belongs to an area of the world recognized as having arguably the most spectacular diversity of life found anywhere on the planet… In terms of biological conservation, the country is rapidly carving a reputation for itself as one of the most proactive nations in Southeast Asia… "

The CCC and the provincial Government of Southern Leyte headed by its feisty governor Rosette Y. Lerias have signed a MoA for a coral reef collaborative conservation project to ensure long-term protection of marine resources throughout Southern Leyte that would provide training and conservation education opportunities for local participants. Apart from this, the "Fred, the Fish," puppet show tours local schools, providing children with learning tools. In the show, Fred, the fish, loses his coral home when an anchor drops on it, and he seeks the help of other fishes to find another sanctuary.

Continuing his article, O’Farrell reports that in 2003, the renowned coral biologist Dr. Doug Fenner visited Sogod Bay, base camp of the CCC and its team of marine biology volunteers. Fenner, he said, was able to identify "in just six hours of diving nearly 300 different species of reef-building coral… That’s nearly as many species in just one small bay as can be found on the entire Great Barrier Reef in Australia, or four times the total number for the whole of the Caribbean."


Both Ian and myself are friends of Dundeet, the governor’s daughter from whom she most obviously inherited her leadership traits. Still she had not sufficiently prepared us for what we saw during the three-day visit. We were overwhelmed, to say the least, by the inroads the province was making in ecological preservation, but more so in the pride and dignity so apparent in the citizenry.

Much of this change has been due to the enlightened leadership of Governor Lerias, now on her last term of office. In short snatches of conversation in-between her official tasks, the governor related how difficult it was during her early years – running after the illegal loggers, catching the dynamite fishermen, teaching the barrio folk the importance of waste disposal.

Today, much of the area has been reforested; the fishermen themselves run after the dynamite fishers, reporting the crime just as it happens. The provincial seat of government in Maasin operates a garbage compactor and dump trucks to haul refuse to designated waste disposal sites. The crime rate is so negligible at less than 200 annually, and a crime solution rate of 99%.

Southern Leyte, with its half million population, has evolved into a model province, the envy of neighboring provinces which have happily decided to follow the same track. Life in this last frontier is leisurely and slow-paced, with its leader aware that tourism can bring more progress to the province.

It would have to start off with eco-tourism, explains the governor’s daughter Dundeet, with mountaineers and back-packers cognizant of the value of environmental protection, and the dangers irresponsible tourism can bring to any virgin landscape. With such an erudite game plan, there is no way for Southern Leyte to go but maintain its enviable reputation as a paragon of how one can survive in this technological era.

[ Limasawa Island Wiki | Sagod Bay Wiki ]


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