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AHON: A Hope in Restoring the Disappearing Philippine Natural Tourism Destinations

March 2, 2012

Allow me to thank the University of Santo Tomas for inviting me in this assembly.
The Philippines is home to a rich biodiversity. It boasts of a plethora of flora and fauna from the mountaintops down to the deepest seas, spread out in the 7,107 islands of the country. About 15.8 million hectares of land, or more than half of the country’s total land area of 30 million hectares, are classified as forestland ; around 3,000 tree species, as well as, 556 species of birds, 180 mammals, and 293 reptiles and amphibians thrive in the country , and more than a hundred new species were found in our rainforests and seas by a biodiversity expedition team in 2011.
These natural resources endemic and, many, unique to our country, should bring us in a competitive edge with other nations in the area of tourism.
Based on a study by the Asian Foundation and the Centre for Research and Communications, the investments in tourism in the country reached 62 Billion Pesos from 2000-2009, creating three million jobs or 9.5% of overall employment. According to the Department of Tourism (DOT), the industry contributes $9.72 billion to our economy, or six percent (6%) of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
To sustain these gains, we must ensure that our environment, from which we derive tourism opportunities, is adequately protected.
Serious concerns related to tourism activities and impact on the environment should therefore be addressed.
Tourist transportation—airplanes, cars, buses—is linked to air and noise pollution. As it adds to carbon dioxide emissions, which contributes to local air pollution, it also produces noise that causes annoyance and stress not only to humans but also to species in the wildlife.
Waste disposal and littering is also a serious concern, with many tourists just leaving behind a trail of garbage especially those going on mountain expeditions. The lack of sewerage systems is also a problem since the absence of this facility directs household, commercial and industrial water waste to bodies of water.
Meanwhile, the absence of land-use planning and building regulations results to aesthetic pollution. This is common in our beaches, where establishments that are built just a few meters from the shorelines can destroy coral habitat.
Many of the tourism-related actions that we take alter the natural ecosystem, and we excessively use much of its resources that it cannot regenerate on its own.
In 1994, the Department of Tourism crafted the Code of Ethics for Philippine Ecotourism to ensure that before any development activities are undertaken in a potential tourist site, the impact of such development must be assessed and the area must be protected from various exploitative interests including poaching of endangered and extinct species, acquiring items of great cultural and historical value, and burning up scarce resources such as water and fuel.
However, even before we have capitalized on our advantages, we already abused and misused much of our resources as confirmed by the glaring statistics on biodiversity loss.
A large number of species in the country are threatened by overexploitation, habitat loss, pollution and degradation of habitats. In fact, the Philippines ranks third for threatened birds and eighth for threatened mammals. There are 695 plants and 223 animals in the country that are considered as threatened species. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources also revealed that only 7.2 million hectares of land in the country remain forest-covered.
Our government is already equipped with the legal mechanisms that are essential to restore the health and vibrancy of our natural environment. As a legislator, I have authored and sponsored some of these vital laws such as, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2001, Clean Air Act, and Renewable Energy Act.
In 2009, I co-authored Republic Act 9593, otherwise known as the Tourism Act. It creates a policy for tourism as an engine of investment, employment and national development.
The integration of environment protection in tourism development is the main thrust of this law. In fact, part of the taxes that a registered tourism enterprise will have to pay shall be used for the protection, maintenance and enrichment of our ecosystems. Furthermore, a registered enterprise that promotes environmental protection and cultural presentation activities is entitled to a tax deduction as a social responsibility incentive.
We also have to realize that there is a bigger threat to the tourism industry as it is greatly dependent on natural and built attractions, both of which are vulnerable to extreme weather events. Climate change causes more stress in our biodiversity resources, which are already in danger of deterioration. It has been forecasted that about 30% of species face a high risk of extinction if global mean temperatures exceed 1.5-2.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
The increase in global temperature will likely result to sea level rise, which is a threat to coastal areas and premier tourist destinations such as beaches, mangrove forests and dive spots.
In fact, Palawan, Cebu, Davao and Bohol, which are considered by DOT as anchor destinations, are among the top ten provinces that are vulnerable to a one meter sea level rise; while Palawan’s prime tourist spots, which are also two of the country’s World Heritage Sites—the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park and the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park—are exposed to flooding and storm surges.
It is therefore necessary that we incorporate climate change adaptation in crafting tourism strategies and development plans.
Our Department of Tourism can learn from the efforts that have been undertaken by the tourism sector in Australia. Research had been conducted to assess the impact of climate change in its tourism regions. Industry stakeholders are provided with the result of such studies, which are continuously updated, to help in decision-making. In fact, the Australian government allocated $200 million from its 2008-2009 Budget to fund activities for the protection of the Great Reef Barrier, a top tourist destination that is likewise vulnerable to climate change.
To make the tourism industry sustainable, regulatory measures must be imposed, including the control in the number of activities and limiting the movement of visitors within protected areas. And since every locality has its own tourist destination to offer, we must encourage communities to preserve the pristine conditions of their place, which would bring in more visitors and sustain their sources of income.
Tourism has a huge potential to reduce poverty and spur economic growth, but we have to keep in mind that progress can be achieved without exacting a toll on our environment. The degradation of our environment, if not dealt with immediately, will not only be detrimental to the tourism sector but will also affect our very own survival.
As an Indian proverb goes, “Only when the last tree has been felled, the last river poisoned and the last fish caught, man will know, that he cannot eat money.”
In the years to come, you will be the effective frontliners in greening tourism policies and practices. With your talent, enthusiasm and passion, I trust that you will be my staunch partners in ensuring that the future generations of Filipinos will be able to live in a cleaner, greener, and healthier nation.
Thank you.