Focusing on the Initiative of 22 Civil Society Organizations to Highlight the Local in a National Event
*Tagbanua word for assembly.
Indisputably, the Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR) is the Crown Jewel. However, the crown comprises other gems that are as amazing as the PPUR. With guidance from the management of the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (PPSRNP), polishing these gems has become the mission of 22 indigenous people’s organizations (IPOs) and people’s organizations (POs). This mission is aligned with the City Government’s vision to attain inclusive economic growth through the development and strengthening of community- based eco-tourism sites. However, a vision is not the only solution because everything depends on execution.
The effort that the PPSRNP management has exerted clarified that the vision is attainable. The process has been long and arduous; but the resilience that the organizations has shown resulted in the boldness that characterize the intention to partner with the PPSRNP in the implementation of the National PPUR Day Celebration.
Owing to the effective management of the UNDP SGP5-assisted projects, the number of organizations that became interested in participating in the efforts of PPSRNP increased. From the original 14 organizations, the number has grown to 22. With approximately 2,000 members, the network that PPSRNP is building is a force that could transform the challenge of highlighting the local initiatives in a national event into concrete steps and mechanics that could ensure the success of the event. After all, there is strength in number.
Nevertheless, it is not only in numbers that strength can be measured. An organized number of people is an assurance of focused work. At present, the network is being formalized. The 22 organizations have been divided into clusters as follows:
- IP Cluster
- Community-based Sustainable Tourism (CBST) Cluster
- Experience Enhancer (Service Provider) Cluster
- Youth Cluster
- Women Cluster
- Agriculture Cluster
Likewise, cluster meetings are being conducted to discuss the organization of the People’s Council. Envisioned as a legislative body of the 22 organizations, the council is similarly intended to serve as the wellspring and the PPPSRNP’s co-implementer of ideas that are related to celebrations, such as the Araw ng Taraw and possibly, the National PPUR Day Celebration.
BIODIVERSITY AS LYNCHPIN
One of these ideas is emphasizing the concerted action for biodiversity protection. The network not only understands but embodies the natural relationship between biodiversity protection and economic benefit of tourism in the PPSRNP.
Isla Felomina is a case in point. To most, the islet is simply a snorkeling and diving site; thus, an economic undertaking. However, to the Nagkakaisang Samahan ng Isla Felomina Dive Site ng New Panggangan, PPSRNP, and the network, the islet is likewise an endeavor that supports the effort to protect the biodiversity of the park. The members understand that the gem can only provide economic alleviation if its beauty will be polished through careful consideration of its fragile marine ecosystem. Together with the PPSRNP, the organization worked toward declaration of the zone as a marine protected area (MPA). Continuous patrolling of the islet and its environs is undertaken by the members of the association.
Between these two buffer zones are similar stories and intentions that should be underlined in any celebration. The Sabang Mangrove Paddle Boat Tour Guide Association Inc. has embarked on expanding its area of operation and influence. Another type of forest measuring 2.18 hectares and adjacent to their current site is being developed. The Samahang Pagkakaisa ng mga Katutubong Tagbanua sa Marufinas is completing the process of ADSDPP. Despite the economic setbacks they have encountered, they are determined to secure the CADT for their ancestral land because they believe that only through this effort can they fully claim their right to their ancestral land. They are aware that only through this effort can they fully protect their forests, which are the spring of their livelihood.Ulugan Bay has been declared an MPA as well. Similarly, the members are working toward eradicating compressor fishing prevalent in the area.
The Sabang Underground River Souvenirs and Handicrafts Association (SURSHA) has been appointed as the IEC arm of the network. SURSHA has developed from being a seller into a merchandise producer capable of designing its own product. Brand development is being achieved through purchase of printing equipment and trainings on design that focus on cultural diversity and biodiversity.The Sabang Sea Ferry Multi-purpose Cooperative has produced Sabang’s first fiberglass tourist boat, which in itself is a tourist attraction. The cooperative views this undertaking as the start of a program that aims to replace all its wooden- with fiberglass-hulled boats.
The Cabayugan Farmers Association uses organic farming to protect the magnificent karst mountain and the park. The members are aware that their adherence to the principles of organic farming is directly related to the protection of the PPUR because the waters from their fields flow directly to the Underground River.
For its part, the PPSRNP is publishing a field guide book. The process itself is unique because the locals are consulted and engaged particularly in localizing the ideas in the book.
The Tribal Hall in Sitio Tagnipa is nearing completion through the efforts of PPSRNP and the Samahan ng Tribong Tagbanua sa Kayasan. The Tribal Hall is a symbol of the organization’s hope to unify the tribes. It is also the gateway to the homestay project that will showcase the cultures of the Tagbanua and Batak; cultures that inherently integrate biodiversity protection. The hall will feature a photo and object exhibit and a store where traditional crafts will be displayed and sold.
Essentially, the network desires to highlight cultural diversity, action for biodiversity protection, search for economic security of the people, and history of the PPSRNP, among others. These are the elements that are continuously polishing the other gems in the crown. Moreover, these are some of the stories and ideas that require showcasing in a national or even an international platform. Clearly, the network has the motivation. What is lacking is the venue. The National PPUR Day Celebration is the perfect stage. The question is: who can show these stories best?
LOCAL IS BEST
The network is keen on encouraging promotion through local channels. Such channels fully understand the uniqueness and peculiarities of the park, particularly the people that reside in it. Moreover, these channels are aware that local action can enhance the economic benefits of the communities. More important, these channels are facilitating simply because these are created by the people who themselves are responsible for the local action. Thus, these are the carriers of the vision and action of the organizations and the communities these organizations belong to.
The entry of the Bloomfield Transport Services Cooperative to the network has provided the much-needed impetus for local promotion as a community based sustainable tourism in palawan. The cooperative is the only local organization authorized to engage in promotion. At present, promotional activities and tour packages are being designed. The latter consider the maximization of tourist visits. Thus, a tour to the PPUR will be in tandem with a visit to the other sites complete with mementos produced locally. A tour will entail several stopovers in the Ulugan Bay View Deck, Tribal Hall, and the planned Karst Mountain View Deck in Sitio Cabayugan Sentro.
Although the intention is for the local groups to earn, these packages likewise intend to emphasize the action of the groups to forge a balance between tourism and biodiversity protection. The development of local tour guides among the youth of PPSRNP and the birthing of the Park Naturalists among the members of the CBSTs, initiatives that are being planned by the network and PPSRNP, could be facilitating factors.
As the PPSRNP shifts to the level of enhancing the experience, rather than simply attending to the needs of the tourist, it is worthwhile to reflect upon its slogan, Transformative Tourism. The slogan denotes the change for the better of the communities within the park, which is intrinsic in any undertaking. What is not inherent in the process is the transformation of the tourist from a mere observer to a participant. By imprinting in the mind of the tourist that he or she is not simply a visitor but a contributor to the transformation of the communities, an upgrading of the tourism experience is offered. Thus, the network believes that the PPSRNP, on the minimum should be the venue for more activities related to the National PPUR Day Celebration. Additionally, these activities should be designed in a manner that interaction and integration with the people will be enhanced. All these can be attained should the people, organizations, and the communities within the park be engaged in creating and implementing the National PPUR Day Celebration.
List of Organizations
- Sabang Sea Ferry Multi-Purpose Cooperative
- Sabang Wellness Spa Owners and Therapists Association (SabWell)
- Bloomfield Transport Services Cooperative
- Sabang-Cabayugan Tricycle Operators and Drivers Association (SACATODA)
- Sabang Underground River Souvenirs and Handicrafts Association (SURSHA)
- Nagkakaisang Samahan ng Isla Felomina Dive Site ng New Panggangan
- Magayen IT Buenavista Consumers Cooperative
- Sabang Mangrove Paddle Boat Tour Guide Association, Inc.
- Community Park Warden
- Tagabinet Neighborhood Tourism Association (Hundred Caves)
- Cabayugan Farmers Association
- Agriculture, Commerce, Tourism Services
- Samahang Magsasaka ng Marufinas
- Samahang Magbubuko ng Marufinas
- Sugod 2 Small Farmers Association
- Kabuhayang Pangkababaihan ng Barangay Marufinas
- Samahang Pagkakaisa ng mga Katutubong Tagbanua ng Marufinas
- Samahan ng Tribong Tagbanua sa Kayasan
- Tinig ng mga Katutubo sa Cabayugan
- Youth Organization of PPSRNP
- Tribal Council of Buenavista