Community-Based Sustainable Tourism is the Focus of Puerto Princesa

The city government is taking a leave of absence in promoting the Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR) for a while to focus on the promotion of its Community-Based Sustainable Tourism (CBST) projects designed to enrich the lives of residents in distant villages in Puerto Princesa, Philippines.

About 30 members of the Alyansa ng Palawenyong Mamamahayag, Inc. (APAMAI), led by its president Ed Javarez, toured the Ugong Rock, the Buenavista View Deck area, and the Mangrove Paddle Tour area upon the invitation of the City Tourism Department (CTD), in partnership with the Roro Bus Lines and Pathmosville Real Estate Developer, on Saturday.

The CBSTs are tourism flagship projects of Puerto Princesa in close partnership with the ABS-CBN Foundation, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and other public-private foundations and institutions.

The CBSTs are the city government’s alternative response to the issues of deficiency in livelihood opportunities in economically-marginalized communities in Puerto Princesa, and overcrowding at the underground river since it was declared one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.

“The goal of the city government right now is to also bring development to destitute barangays with interesting cultures and traditions, wildlife collections that can be appreciated with care, rituals and insights, caves and rock formations, marine wildlife, and many others,” Rene Baylon of the City Tourism Department said.

Puerto Princesa Baywalk Park - Community-Based Sustainable Tourism” title=
Puerto Princesa Baywalk Park - Community-Based Sustainable Tourism via

In Puerto Princesa, there are CBSTs that were developed to form new destination circuits: the Northwest Circuit composed of the Mangrove Paddleboat Cruise; Sun-Sea-Sand in Barangay Marufinas and Sitio Sabang, Cabayugan; Sabang Waterfalls; spelunking at Ugong Rock and the Lion’s Cave; trekking at Mt. Bloomsfield and to the tribal villages of the Batak indigenous peoples; and the ziplines in barangays Tagabenit and Cabayugan.

The Honda Bay Circuit, on the other hand, showcased island hopping in three-five major islands off Honda Bay in Barangay Sta. Lourdes; Palawan Wildlife Refuge and Rescue Center in Barangay Irawan; the Puerto Princesa Baywalk Park; Irawan Forest Eco-Park; Mitra Ranch, Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm; the historical and cultural centers such as the Plaza Cuartel; Immaculate Conception Cathedral; the World War II Museum and the dining places at the heart of the city.

The Northeast Circuit highlighted the Maoyon River Cruise and Rafting in Barangay Maoyon; Batak Cultural Village and Center in Barangay San Rafael; Olanguan Waterfalls, and the beach resorts along the Babuyan-Binduyan stretch.

There was also the Southeast Circuit that was appropriate for researchers and scholars at the 1,780-hectare Sta. Lucia Environmental Estate – the Millennium Acacia Trees, Simpucan Bird Watching Site; white sand beaches of Napsan, trekking to Mount Salakot and other traversable areas from Barangay Irawan to the west coast.

Baylon said currently, there were ongoing road and bridge improvements to the CBST circuits to make them easily accessible.

“Community-based sustainable tourism gives travelers the chance to feel what it is like in our local communities, gain experiences from the points of view of the residents of the communities, and at the same time help them in gaining income,” Baylon said, adding the CTD hopes the local media would help promote the CBSTs through their print, television and radio reports.

Ugong Rock CBST

At Ugong Rock in Barangay Tagabenit, the media participants in the tour took turns in experiencing the 20-35 minute cavern trek and climb to the limestone platform 75-feet above, where they launched themselves on a 380-meter zipline that goes 21 seconds through the rice paddies depending on one’s weight.

“The short ride will make you nervous at first, but when you get to the middle of the zipline and over the rice field, everything becomes okay. This is really a fun and wonderful experience!” Rey Betita of DZRH-Palawan said.

The rock promontory was named “Ugong” for the echoing sounds it makes when one tries to knock hard on the mineral aggregate, said its project manager Gerry Tamsi.

Tamsi, who co-manages the Ugong Rock Zipline CBST project under the auspices of the ABS-CBN Foundation partnership, said since its launching on Jan. 24, 2011, at least 88,000 domestic and foreign tourists had explored Ugong Rock and tried the zipline.

On a daily basis, it is now averaging 150-200 guests. “We can’t increase the number of people going inside the cave because it has a carrying capacity.

What is exciting about Ugong Rock is that compare to other operating ziplines, it goes through a cave. The rest are just purely man-made,” Tamsi said.

What also makes the Ugong Rock experience different, according Tamsi, is the inculcation of values to the visitors. No one is allowed to go up to the outcrop without joining the CBST’s tour guide in prayer.

“The tour guides pray with the guests first before they go up to the zipline platform so that they can ask for divine guidance and so that they will always be guided to the right direction,” he said.

The Ugong Rock is best remembered by Puerto Princesans as the last project whose launching was headed by slain broadcast journalist Dr. Gerry Ortega on Jan. 23, 2011.

Mangrove Paddleboat Cruise CBST

From Barangay Tagabenit, the members of the APAMAI visited next the Mangrove Paddleboat Cruise and the adjacent Sabang X-Zipline at Sitio Sabang in Barangay Cabayugan, where the Puerto Princesa Underground River is also located.

The group was greeted by Manang Aida or Lady Mangrove, who is said to be the custodian of the mangrove forests in Sabang.

The mangrove paddleboat cruise offers an educational tour of the mangroves at P150 per person. From the river bank, up to six people can load themselves on a paddle boat made of fiber glass, propelled with old-style wooden pole that has one broad flat end.

The cruise takes 40 minutes all-in-all on serene river water that reflects the tall mangrove trees and their beautifully intermingled protruding roots.

Lady Mangrove said that in the Philippines, the area is where the most number of mangrove species can be found, the three of which are Rhizopora apiculata, Rhizophora mucronata and Bruguiera gymnorrhiza.

The apiculata is what is called “bakhaw lalaki,” while the Rhizophora mucronata is known as the loop-root mangrove or the red mangrove found on coasts and river banks.

In perfect English, the custodian of the mangroves at Sitio Sabang said the paddleboat tour is not only for the pure nature lover but for people who wish to be educated about how important it is to maintain and preserve a pristine environment.

“Mangroves are very important because they are very productive and are renewable resource, and they play a very significant role in our environment. Here at Sitio Sabang, we do not just bring the tourists to the mangroves without explaining why they are important more than just being a place of attraction,” Lady Mangrove told the members of the APAMAI.

Mangrove ecosystems like the one in Sabang acts as buffer zone between the land and the sea; they protect the coast against erosion due to wind, waves, water currents; protect coral reefs; sea-grass beds; and they are habitat to a collection of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and breeding grounds to pelagic fishes. (PNA) RMA/CARF/utb

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