Wednesday, August 19, 2015

DENR offers Sorsogon’s offshore tourism spot to private investors
By Danny O. Calleja

SORSOGON CITY, Aug. 18 (PNA) -– The provincial office here of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is offering one of the province’s offshore ecotourism sites to any tourism industry investor who may win in the public bidding scheduled on October, this year.

Being offered for lease is the public landmass called Panumbagan Sandbar, an ecotourism wonder that sits at the outskirt of Ticao Pass off the coast of the municipality of Pilar.

On its notice to lease the state property released recently, the DENR’s Provincial Environment and Natural Resources (PENRO)-Sorsogon announced that the “right to lease the land will be awarded to the person offering the highest annual rental as per instruction and authority of the DENR regional office.”

The Panumbagan Sand Bar, a five-kilometer-long tamarind fruit-shaped islet richly endowed with fine, pearly white sand, is an added place to go for tourists swarming the nearby town of Donsol for the yearly seasonal interaction events with whale sharks.

The islet has been provided by the local government of Pilar a well-engineered series of facilities like floating cottages connected with each other by floating bridges made of industrial bamboo and built in style in three octagonal rings.

More developments are in the offing for this site through a Php3.5-million fund allocation provided by the DOT via the Grassroots Participatory Budgeting Process (GPBP) of the agency under the 2015 General Appropriation Act, according to the Department of Tourism (DOT) regional office for Bicol based in Legazpi City.

“At this point and time, escapade in Donsol will no longer be complete without experiencing what Panumbagan Sand Bar offers-- like the taste of sea grapes (locally, “lato”) that are abundant at the surrounding Panlatuan Bay and can be harvested from under the water by visitors themselves and eaten fresh,” Ravanilla said.

Panlatuan Bay, a cove covering three barangays of Pilar, is the ancient site of Astillero de Panlatuan, the once-famous shipbuilding yard established after the end of Galleon Trade in 1650.

Sea grapes (Caulerpa lentillifera), an edible seaweed reported to have antibacterial and antifungal properties and believed to have a cure to hypertension and rheumatism, abundantly and naturally grows under the pure seawater of the bay for its high salinity.

This pretty green seaweed -- which studies show to contain high amount of minerals, balanced amino acid profile and iodine -- is made up of tiny oblong, greenish crystalline balls.

Edible sea urchins, locally named “suwaki” (Sea Urchin Roe) that are known as aphrodisiac in Japan for thousands of years, can also be found around the area.

Panumbagan can be reached via a 50-minute motorboat ride from the Pilar port passing along the Bantigue Point and Marine Sanctuary Reserve, a cool place for diving and snorkeling, viewing and interacting with various colors, shapes and types of corals, fishes and other underwater characters.

Both places are perfect for nature lovers who want to be embraced by peaceful ambiance, hear the music created by the sea breeze, and enjoy sun bathing, bare foot sand walking, swimming, and savoring tranquility.

Ravanilla describes these places as among Sorsogon’s perfect getaways from a busy life that are now among the most visited sites in the province because of its proximity to the whale shark sanctuary of Donsol.

Tourists, mostly Malaysians and Russians coming for the whale sharks, have been making side trips to these areas to discover for themselves these wonderful add-on experiences, she said.

For Ravanilla, the operation, management and maintenance of tourism sites in the province are better given to private investors who can afford the cost of its development into a commercial tourist facility than to local government units (LGUs).

Programs of LGUs on tourism are often compromised due to partisan politics wherein funds and projects are choked when the mayor is not a partymate of the majority of the legislative council that approves the local budget and gives authority to the chief executive to enter into contracts of whatever nature, she said.

And when the mayor is replaced by another who is not a political ally, oftentimes, projects started by the past administration are shelved or killed to the detriment of its continuity, she added.

Panumbagan Sandbar is a 50,200-square-meter land with an appraised value of Php11.8 million which, according to the PENRO, is covered by foreshore land lease application in the name of Imelda Perryman which is now a subject of a notice of lease.

The municipal government of Pilar has expressed strong opposition to the DENR move to privatize the property based on the potentials of the area as a tourism site which was classified by the DOT as an emerging eco-tourism product of the province and of Bicol.

The opposition was recently raised by the LGU before the Sorsogon provincial legislative board in an effort to block the public bidding, saying it is a DOT-accredited ecotourism product under the tourism convergence program called Albay-Masbate-Sorsogon (AlMaSor) tourism alliance.

In its opposition, the LGU is armed with a resolution approved by the council in 2013 withdrawing its support of the foreshore lease application of Perryman, a native of the municipality, which the same council expressed in a resolution approved in 2007 when the municipality was under a different mayor.

A petition to annul the withdrawal of support resolution has been filed with the Regional Trail Court here by Perryman and notwithstanding all those hullabaloos, a source from the DENR regional office in Legazpi City said the public bidding will push through. (PNA) LAP/FGS/DOC/CBD