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2017
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Protecting and preserving eco-tourism sites in the Cordillera
Louis Likigan Jr

BALANCE -- Allowing the public to commune with nature by letting them visit natural wonders does not mean allowing them to desecrate a protected, and to some, sacred sites. It means letting them immerse with the community, respect their culture, at the same time enjoy the magnificence of God’s creations.  -- Ofelia Empian

 
As tourism continues to be one of our key drivers towards economic recovery, tourist destinations and attractions in the Philippines and particularly within our region are threatened by environmental degradation and other problems that they say are all part of the package of a booming tourism industry.

Tourism as a whole is not the main culprit for this growing menace to our community and the environment. It is because people these days fail to realize that we have not practiced good stewardship over what our Creator has given us. If we understand the concept of stewardship, it says that we are the guardians and caretakers of this beautiful ecosystem or that which has been entrusted to us, and if we fail to do so, we reap the fruits of our mismanagement resulting in our changing climate condition where everything is affected.

At this point, as we look around us, we ask, what is there to save? Is there something left for protection and preservation? Is it still worth saving? Well, as far as we are concerned there are many sites worth saving, and the duty to do so is everybody’s business.

In Benguet, there are breathtaking sceneries, challenging trekking sites, and unique attractions, which need protection and preservation.

As we enjoy the rise of tourism, we have to be committed and be consistent in implementing environmental laws such as Republic Act 7586 or the National Integrated Protected Areas System, RA 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, RA 9175 or the Chainsaw Act of 2002, RA 8749 or the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999 , RA 9593 or Tourism Act of 2009, ordinances, and other related laws.

Locally, tagging mountains or categorization of sites through legislations have been done for these would be advantageous to the community, ecosystem, and the tourist. It would safeguard the majority of local and foreign visitors as a whole.

Another thing to build up and encourage is community participation. Strengthen the community by empowering the gatekeepers and the elders where these tourist attractions are loca-ted, to avoid any violations, conflicts, or misunderstandings in terms of indigenous laws and policies.

Strengthening the grassroots where these sites and attractions are located is a key factor in establishing sustainable tourism. Policymakers should look into the communities as partners in crafting laws and guidelines which are applicable in their respective places. Communities must be well prepared in terms of security, potable water, social skills, and development. The government is the main partner for community preparation.

“Transculturation,” where the host community adjusts to the demands of the visitors, is also changing the local landscape. This act should not be encouraged since it changes local practices. Communities tend to adapt with what they see from their visitors.

Preservation of culture is also a way of preserving and strengthening our ecosystem and enhancing our indigenous environmental protection practices.

Employing local people in their respective communities as forest guards, rangers, and tour guides will be beneficial to the community because they will realize that being guardians of their tourist sites is rewarding. As the tourism industry grows, community involvement would grow as well.

To make the community proactive in this endeavor, there must be continuous training on environmental awareness, self-awareness, and character development to help them enhance their self-esteem and look at the importance of doing their roles and responsibilities as indi-genous peoples.

Why is there a need to empower the communities? Failure to uplift them could result in losing their identity and make them dependent on the outside. Instead of being self-productive, they would totally rely on outside sustenance. Investing on them in terms of trainings and livelihood would surely make them competitive and boost their self-esteem. It would make them proud of their future accomplishments and it would help to enhance their indigenous knowledge, skills, and practices in terms of environmental protection, preservation, and strengthening these tourist attractions.

Another thing to consider in strengthening and protecting our natural wonders is incorporating responsible “voluntourism” in our activities. Instead of just doing mountain climbing or trekking, encourage tourists to conduct a cleanup drive while trekking in the mountains, or encourage them to plant trees along the trails or mountains where they would trek or climb. Later on they would have the opportunity to visit their plants during their next climb or visit.

Incorporating community programs where tourists or visitors may participate  – cleanup drives, immersion activities, or outreach programs – will help develop a sense of concern and responsibility to the environment and community. Such little deeds when done for the love of God and country would be beneficial to all of us.

As a boy scout, I am always reminded of the old scout oath: “In my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country the Philippines (including the environment), to help other people at all times (including the family), keeping myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally upright.”

We don’t need to do enormous tasks to be recognized. Doing a little deed would be great when combined with consistency, passion, and love.

The next set of leaders should take these challenges seriously and initiate measures that would ensure a balance between tourism and preservation of culture and the environment.
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