Monday, January 18, 2016

Declaration of less known Albay natural wonders as ecotourism zone nears approval -- solon
By Danny O. Calleja

LIGAO CITY, Jan. 15 (PNA) – Rep. Fernando Gonzalez of Albay’s 3rd congressional district has expressed confidence that the province’s sleepy town of Jovellar, which boasts of natural wonders like exotic falls and breathtaking underground rivers, will be soon declared by Congress as an ecotourism zone.

“My House Bill 5967 seeking the declaration was approved by the Committee on Tourism before the adjournment of the session last December and when the sessions resume starting on Jan. 18, my hope is high that it would finally be passed to fast track the recognition of Jovellar as an ecotourism zone,” Gonzalez on Friday here told the Philippines News Agency.

In the bill, the congressman, who serves as vice-chair of the House Committees on Bicol Recovery and Economic Development, cited Republic Act 9593 or the Tourism Act of 2009 that declares “tourism as an indispensable element of the national economy and an industry of national interest and importance”.

Jovellar, a small, fifth class municipality of less than 20,000 people mostly engaged in farming, is listed by the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) based on latest estimates as among the poorest Albay town, with a poverty incidence of 46.3 among families.

Occupying a total land area of 13,540 hectares at the southwestern tip of Albay, the municipality located some 35 kilometers from Legazpi City, the provincial capital, is the smallest among the six towns and one city comprising the province’s 3rd congressional district.

While the municipality is small, Gonzalez said, it prides itself of having hidden natural wonders such as the amazing Quitinday, Sigpit and Mataginting Falls as well as the stunning Naglaus Underground River.

Mataginting Falls is a broad waterfalls cascading into the Naglaus underground river, a natural formation which is a largely unexplored underground river whose 300 meters long tunneled river that looks mysterious and weird, can be navigated using bamboo crafts for a unique experience.

Sigpit Falls is a tourist attraction for its green and cold water with formation of stalactites and stalagmites, with rice field on top.

Quitinday Falls, with clear, ice-cold waters, is ensconced between exciting rock walls wrapped in vine roots and foliage, pour from three points—one in heavy steam and two others -- that split the waters into jets on its way down to the Quitinday River, another underground wonder.

Jovellar also has the broad Quipia River which is a boating favorite as it runs all the way to the nearby Sorsogon town of Donsol, the whale shark capital of the world.

Gonzalez said developing the municipality into an ecotourism zone will help the area generate investments that at the same time would provide employment opportunities for local residents, given that the influx of tourists would make the ecotourism zone a significant source of business opportunities.

As of today, he said, the lack of tourist facilities -- such as lodging houses and retail outlets and round-the-clock public transportation -- hinder the socio-economic and environmental development of the area.

These problems, however, can be properly addressed once the municipality becomes an ecotourism zone which, according to the Gonzalez's bill, shall be accorded priority development by the Department of Tourism (DOT).

When the bill is enacted into a law, it will mandate the DOT to prepare, in coordination with the local government and other agencies, a development plan involving the construction, installation and maintenance of appropriate faculties and infrastructure which shall enhance tourism in the area.

The development plan, it said, shall ensure the preservation and conservation of the natural beauty and indigenous nature of the area giving consideration to the formulation, development and implementation of programs and strategies that will generate livelihood and employment opportunities for the local inhabitants.

The DOT will likewise be mandated to implement the tourism development plan that will suit the natural characteristics of the area and shall incorporate the same in the overall development plans and programs for national implementation.

Under the proposed law, promoting Jovellar as an area for ecotourism in all its natural, regional and local promotion programs shall also be a responsibility of the DOT.

Ecotourism is defined by the International Ecotourism Society (IES) as responsible travel to natural areas that conserve the environment and improve the welfare of local people.

These destinations are often remote areas, whether inhabited or uninhabited, and are usually under some kind of environmental protection at the national, international, communal or private level.

Ecotourism, according to the IES, means education for both tourists and residents of nearby communities as tour operators should formulate and apply a code of conduct for both the traveler and the industry itself to minimize their negative impacts on sensitive environments and cultures.

Luring tourists into the place, Gonzalez said, is not difficult this time as the Php2.7-billion coastal roads interlinking municipalities along Burias and Ticao Passes, including Jovellar, are nearing completion.

These roads are the 46-kilometer artery along the Albay West Coast connecting several key fishing barangays within this city and the municipalities of Libon, Oas and Pioduran; the 25.6-kilometer Pioduran-Donsol (Sorsogon) Road; and the 24.9-kilometer Guinobatan-Jovellar-Donsol Road.

These projects that form part of the DPWH-DOT convergence program under the Aquino administration’s 2011-2016 National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP), when completed, would facilitate growth to the already booming tourism of Donsol and Albay’s 3rd district, enabling tourists to travel with ease.

The Donsol-Jovellar-Guinobatan road will make travel shorter between Donsol and areas covered by the third district of Albay, including this city, the site of the alluring Kawa-kawa Hill and Nature Park from where Mt. Mayon’s southwestern quadrant can be closely viewed. (PNA) FPV/FGS/DOC/cbd