Siargao rep says domestic tourists are the main polluters

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THE CLOUD 9 view deck in Siargao, an island that initially became popular for surfing. — BW FILE PHOTO

By Maya M. Padillo, Correspondent

AS SIARGAO Island gears up as the pilot site of a joint private-public sector sustainable tourism project, its congressional representative flagged that domestic tourists are the ones mainly in need of lessons on environmental awareness and protection.

Rep. Francisco Jose F. Matugas II of Surigao del Norte’s 1st District, which covers Siargao, said Filipino visitors have significantly increased in the past year and along with them the amount of garbage at the beaches, including plastic wastes.

He noted that foreign tourists used to comprise up to 90% of arrivals on the island.

“We don’t have problems during that time because foreigners are already educated in terms of garbage disposals. Most of them don’t bring plastics… foreigners are educated with environment hazards and they are very particular on that,” Mr. Matugas said in an interview on the sidelines of the launching of the Juan Effect sustainable tourism project of airline Cebu Pacific in partnership with the Department of Tourism (DoT).

Siargao will be the pilot site of the project, which aims to promote responsible travel. The airline and the DoT will collaborate with local stakeholders for specific environmental conservation action plans.

Mr. Matugas said the tourism office recorded about 600,000 arrivals from January to July this year, and the projection is it will hit the one-million mark by end-2018.

Of these, he added, about 50% are local tourists.

“It’s now 50%-50% (between foreign and local tourists), sometimes its more (local). You can see it on the plane,” he said, referring to domestic flights to Siargao from Manila and Cebu.

The congressman said he is optimistic that with the launching of the Juan Effect program, Siargao would see less waste, particularly single-use plastic.

“We are very happy to have this program… the impact of single-use plastic is very bad,” he said.

Mr. Matugas there is already an ordinance covering the nine town in Siargao to ban single-use plastic.

Two towns, Pilar and Sta. Monica, are already implementing the law, and Mr. Matugas said they are working on full island coverage soon, especially in the main town of General Luna.

“General Luna will follow suit. The problem with Gen. Luna is, it is the tourism hub of Siargao and it is not that easy to implement. We started with the smaller towns,” he said.

Cebu Pacific President and Chief Executive Officer Lance Y. Gokongwei said while tourism has proven to be an economic growth catalyst, it also poses environmental threats.

“Travel and tourism are one of the world‘s economic sectors that produces employment benefits in the related industries and certainly contributes to the country‘s economic growth. But tourism comes with a prize,“ Mr. Gokongwei said during the program launch in Metro Manila.

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, for her part, said, “In the DoT, we see the need to inspire, collaborate, educate, and habitualize our efforts on this advocacy. By inspiring, we engage consumers, making them feel empowered to embrace their role as responsible tourists.”