Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Hagedorn path to Sustainable Development

INDUSTRIAL OR TOURISM DEVELOPMENT?

Not so long ago, Puerto Princesa City was a place no one really bothered to know, except of course the Puerto Princesans. What little that people knew about us were mostly conjured images of a not-so-wholesome place like being the abode of prisoners, and where malaria abounds. We were a city and a people without a defined direction – not unlike many other cities of the country.

In 1992, people started to notice and become curious of us. They started talking about Puerto Princesa being the cleanest city they have ever set eyes on in the Philippines. National government leaders from both the executive and legislative, media men, national and international sports celebrities, members of the academe and the studentry, and leaders from other local government units who came to our city had invariably the same thing to say about us: we are not only the cleanest but the greenest city as well.

To protect and preserve the city’s environment – marine and terrestrial – we instituted environmental protection measures. We waged war against the spoiler of nature. It was then that people took a really long and hard look at us and they seem to have liked what they saw. They showered us with numerous awards and accolades. Earth Day Award, Macli-ing Dulag Environmental Achievement Award, Best Governed Local Government Unit Awards and Peace Award; these are just among the many that people from everywhere bestowed on us.

Today, Puerto Princesa has a completely different identity. We have become the talk of the town and the inspiration of many. We have set the national standards in unity, discipline and cooperation. We have become a people who have made winning a way of life. In three short years, we have overcome our ignominious past to become what we are today – a model city.

As we now ride high in the blaze of glory on the basis of what we have successfully begun, we have to confront the ultimate challenge – that of developing the economy of the people in a sustainable and egalitarian way. And initially enthralled by the vast potentials of industrialization, we requested for and were granted by His Excellency, Pres. Fidel V. Ramos, a 1,072-hectare of land carved out from the Iwahig Penal Colony to be used as the City Industrial and Commercial Zone.

Recent realities, however, compel us to reconsider the chosen path to economic development. Most of the investors who came over did so because they were drawn by the well-known cleanliness and natural beauty of the place, not by its industrial endowments. Then its inclusion in the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asia Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) unraveled its agricultural and tourism potentials more than its industrial promise.

All these led us to asking some hard questions: Can we realistically complete with the Metro-Manila area and the Calabarzon in terms of attracting industrial investment given the already present infrastructure and industrial base in those regions? Can we lock horns with Davao, Cagayan de Oro City and the Socsargen areas for share of this industrial pie? Regrettably, the answers to all of the above are “no.”

On the other hand, can any of the above places vie with Puerto Princesa City and Palawan in terms of ecological purity; natural beauty such as the magnificence of the St. Paul Subterranean River National Park – the world’s longest navigable underground river; and abundance of exotic flora and fauna, many of which are endemic in Palawan alone? Eco-tourism is the buzzword of today’s world travelers. And eco-tourism is definitely Puerto Princesa City’s distinct advantage over the rest.

Nature has thus chosen for Puerto Princesa the road of economic development. And coupled with such an auspicious reputation as the “Last Frontier” in this part of the globe that has already attracted the world’s travel planners to include it in the itinerary of trans-ocean luxury vessels, eco-tourism is undoubtedly the key to the city’s sustainable development.

It is in this context that we have decided to request the conversation of the 1,072-hectare Industrial and Commercial Zone at Brgy. Sta. Lucia into an Environmental Estate. The Estate will be an eco-tourism park and environmental center of the Philippines. It will serve both as a catalyst for economic growth and a vehicle for preserving the environment. It will also become an institution in conservation and the world’s fountain of biological knowledge.

The Estate will have four (4) major components:

The Academic Center – Designed to attract naturalist from around the country and even the world. It can become a facility for exhibits, lectures, demonstrations and exchanges between the people of Puerto Princesa and its environs in learning and understanding our ecological heritage. Consultant guest, naturalists, botanists, scientist of the natural science, landscape artist, marine biologist and nature lovers can engage in the actual field study process. The center and its populace shall become a repository and recipient of data, information and specimens which shall offer an opportunity to observe and investigate the rich living diversity of our aquatic and terrestrial ecology and man’s evolving relationship with it.

The Academic Center will be composed of:

General Areas Interest Areas Centers

Landmark Preserved Church Beach Forest Reforestation

South Security Node Interdenominational Church Interpretive Center

South Parking Area Research Museum Monitoring, Control and

Marina Concert Hall Surveillance (MCS) Center

Hotel Area Tropical Aquaria Garden

Museum (Main)

Hot Springs

The Wildlife Component – Ecology is the study of the relationships of organism to their environment. Man has a relationship with all the other organisms in a given environment and needs an appreciation of this relationship. In spite of the wide adaptability of most living things, they normally inhabit specific neighborhood or habitats. The Wildlife Component is a habitat exploration venture set free.

It will have the following features:

General Areas Interest Areas Centers

Central Train Terminal Wildlife Viewing Station Nursery & Diverse Species

Man-made Landscape Special Interest Shops Reforestation Techniques

Forest Model Ornamental Propagation Farm Center

Herbal Plantation

Bird Sanctuary

3) Eco-tourism Village – To promote the habitats of Palawan, the Eco-tourism Village will feature:

General Areas Interest Areas Center

Jogging/Biking Trail Aboriginal Home and Dipterocarp Reforestation

Nature Viewing Spot Artifacts/Crafts Center Techniques

North Train Station Aboriginal Habitats Folk Arts Center

North Security Node Orchid Farms Freshwater Fish Life

Viewing Tower Curio Shops Study Station

Hostel Type Units Delicatessen

(Log Cabins) Book Shop

Photo Lab

Restaurant

4) Recreation Component – Eco-tourism is not eco-tourism without adventure travel. Travelers seek to fulfill specific desires and his has evolved to going somewhere they have never been and doing things they have never done before. And nature has taken a reversal of fortune: before it was just a backdrop; now it is part of the infrastructures of the industry. The temperate environment has a lot of new surprises for the adventurous. And adventure is the best avenue to learn more about the environment. This is the marketing niche served by this component.

Adventure will be harnessed through:

General Areas Interest Areas Centers

Camping Area Jogging/Biking Trail Amphitheaters

Toilet Facilities Sea Canoe Station Water Adventures

Cooking Facilities The Outdoors Specialty Shop

Backpack Tents

Viewing Tower

Having thus set our sites on tourism in lieu of industrial development, we intend to make Puerto Princesa City as the eco-tourism capital of the Philippines, the ASEAN region and the world by making it a world-class, park-like city. The environmental Estate is an important beginning towards the realization of that dream.

St. Paul Subterranean River National Park – The park is home to what is believed to be the world’s longest navigable underground river, and is the city’s foremost tourism destination. For the first half of 1994 alone, it has received 7,477 local and 8,598 foreign visitors for a total of 16,042.00 in entrance fees alone, not to mention its multiplier effect on the economy of the local populace. A 150% increase in the number of foreign visitors was noted. This despite Mayor Edward S. Hagedorn’s order to put on hold the marketing blitz for the capital city of Palawan as a tourist destination until the necessary amenities like lodging, telecommunications systems and roads shall have been attended to.

For better administrative control, the DENR turned over the management of this world-renowned park to the city government. This turnover of management from national to local government is the first of its kind in the history of the country and was conceived through the effort and initiative of the mayor.

Recently, the Park was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Environment, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Aside from the already popular Puerto Princesa City Subterranean River National Park and the exotic Honda Bay, the city’s overall tourism development blueprint includes the following projects that are by no means less important:

1) The Puerto Princesa City Convention Center – The city is fast becoming the country’s convention and conference center. Not counting the regular tourist who have some flocking, some 147 groups have been registered to have held conferences, conventions, and similar such activities here. Big groups, such as the Philippine Medical Association with thousands of members in its roster, we regrettably had to turn down because of inadequate billeting facilities. The planned Convention Center, a city-funded project, hopes to address that inadequacy.

2) Zoological and Botanical Park – To be located in the Irawan Watershed, this proposed 50-hectare Park will showcase the diverse flora and fauna that are endemic in Palawan and the Philippines.

3) Sta. Lourdes Hot Spring – The Spring water spas are attractive alternatives for those who have gotten tired of sun and sea.

4) Salakot Falls Forest Mountain Resort – This will provide nature-lovers the necessary gateway to Puerto Princesa City’s dense forest mountains; Mountain Trekking, water spas in the woods, and many other unique features, another natural alternative to the sea.

5) Salvacion Viewdeck – A panoramic view of Honda Bay, the dozen or so island inside it and the wide expanse of greenery fronting the East Coast.

6) Talaudyong Beach Resort – Sun, sea and wide stretches of white beaches. This is another paradise that is only waiting to be tapped. Its distance from the City Proper makes it the perfect hideaway for the privacy-conscious.

7) Canigaran Sandbar – Right in the fringes of the City Proper, a perfect place for those without the luxury of time and travel.

8.) Government Center and Nature Park – To be located in a 100-hectare area at Brgy. Sta. Monica where the New City Hall Building, Justice Hall, Palawan State University, Palawan Sports Complex and other government offices are currently housed, it will become yet another hallmark of Puerto Princesa as a veritable city of parks and greens.

Kaunlaran or economic development is the last of the three K’s we have promised the people of Puerto Princesa, the first two being Kalinisan and Kapayapaan. The entire country and the rest of the world acclaim our success in these first two areas: cleanliness and peace and order. And with the beautiful relationship that has evolved between the citizenry and the city leadership in the course of these earlier campaigns, there is every reason to believe that we can be equally successful in this most important undertaking of all: eradication of poverty.

At any rate, we know we cannot afford to fail in this ultimate challenge of providing food on our people’s tables, roofs over their heads, education, health and clothing for them and their children. For to do so would be to render hollow our earlier successes. And that is one thing we can never allow to happen.