Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The road to Pinatubo

IN Region 3, all roads still lead to Mt. Pinatubo where the awesome landscape is often likened to the face of the moon. The mighty volcanic eruption did more than just alter the world’s climate, or change our political atmosphere, it also created a new sport in tourism – the now fabled trek to the sapphire waters of Mt. Pinatubo’s crater- lagoon.

But, there was disquieting news last week. A four-wheel drive vehicle with five Korean tourists on board, suddenly turned on its side while negotiating a new road to Mt. Pinatubo’s crater. Badly injured, the foreign visitors had to be rushed to Manila for medical treatment. Any Filipino concerned about successful and productive tourism development should be alarmed. Are we at it again, shooting ourselves in the foot?

Evidently, there is some "trailblazing," in the very literal sense of the word, going on in the Mt. Pinatubo area. You will agree that "trailblazing" has a positive connotation as it implies adventure and daring creativity. Someone who defies all odds to chart a new course to somewhere or something is admiringly called a "trailblazer". But, this does not seem to be the case with a certain Korean company blazing another trail to Mr. Pinatubo. For the last seven years, the safe and well-trodden path to the majestic crater is through the thirty-kilometer streambed along the O’Donnell River where tourists can ride or hike. However, reports from the Department of Tourism’s Region 3 officer indicates that the company in question, a Korean travel agency called PDC Development Corporation, has bulldozed a twenty-kilometer stretch along the Crow Valley range in Capas, Tarlac, all the way up to Botolan, Zambales. Working at lightning speed, it took them only three months.

According to our Region 3 Tourism director, Ronaldo Tiotuico, he immediately reported the Korean "trailblazing" activities to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) so an official investigation could be conducted to determine whether the project complied with our environmental laws, or whether the required clearances were issued by all the government agencies concerned. For example, was there a Free and Prior Informed Consent Certification (FPIC) from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP)?

Director R. Tiotuico warns of a "…potential threat to the Aeta communities surrounding Mt. Pinatubo due to impending danger of avalanches of loosened volcanic debris, especially during heavy down pour or slight tremors…" Apparently, the four-wheel drive vehicle that turned on its side was driving along slippery slopes and uneven terrain. Ninety-eight percent of Mt. Pinatubo’s foreign visitors are Koreans, so it is appalling that the PDC Development Corporation, owned by Messrs. Cris Park and Patton Kim, should endanger the lives of their compatriots. Because the Philippines is the host country, we will have to take care of them by demanding that Korean business people obey our laws. On the other hand, we should also be vigilant about the strict implementation of these laws by local officials mandated to do so. Congratulations to Director Ronaldo Tiotuico for sounding the alarm bells. To think that it was he who invited the Korean PDC Development Corporation to invest in the Mt. Pinatubo area! We need vigilant and selfless tourism officers like him. (gemma601@yahoo.com) Manila Bulletin

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