Santa Ana, Cagayan – The prospect of hosting American troops is slowly getting known in this once-sleepy northern town, and hopes are high that such an event would give the growing local tourism industry a further boost.
Santa Ana has not been mentioned before as one of the areas eyed for U.S. troop activities under the newly-signed Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, but Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin hinted that the town is among those that are being considered.
“This still to be agreed upon,” Gazmin said in a mobile-phone message.
American troop presence here is seen as advantageous for the ill-equipped Philippine military, which already has its hands full with China’s activities in the West Philippine Sea and also has to check the entry of Chinese and Taiwanese poachers in the north.
Located in the north-eastern tip of Luzon Island, Santa Ana hosts the Naval Base Camilo Osias, which has an airfield that can accommodate military aircraft like C-130 planes.
The base also has a harbor on the Babuyan Channel that links the West Philippine Sea and the Pacific Ocean, where the Benham Rise – another Philippine territory in need of protection – is located.
Local officials confirmed learning of the possible hosting of U.S. troops but asked not to be named in reports, saying the national government is the one handling the matter.
“Some Americans arrived here recently to make an inspection,” one said.
AwarenessMajor Emmanuel Garcia, the Armed Forces’ civil relations officer for Northern Luzon, declined to comment on the possible U.S. troop visits but admitted the need to beef up security in the northern territories.
Only two vessels, a Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources ship manned by Coast Guard personnel and a Navy gunboat, are stationed here to patrol the seas up to the Batanes group of islands bordering Taiwan.
Awareness of the country’s northern territories is also still “not that good,” exposing these to encroachment by foreign poachers, Garcia said.
“We are not still that aware of our northern territories, even myself, I don’t know what’s happening there now. Especially in the seven uninhabited islands of Batanes,” he said after launching a dragon boat race with local officials here Friday.
The boat race, participated by soldiers, will be followed by similar activities and tourism campaigns in Batanes to raise that awareness, Garcia said.
Charlotte Collado, public affairs officer at the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA), said they welcome the possible entry of US troops and hope to benefit from it.
“We welcome it, especially if it will benefit the local community. We just hope that our protected areas will remain as they are now,” she said.
SurvivorPreviously known only for a port where one can buy imported second-hand cars and a hotel with a casino, Santa Ana now also banks on a newfound strength in tourism brought by its hosting of a season of American reality show Survivor.
The show’s 28th season was filmed mostly in Santa Ana’s Palaui Island and Anguib beach from July to August 2013, with preparations starting as early as April.
“Survivor: Cagayan” aired from February 26 to May 21 this year.
“After Surivivor, we were overwhelmed with the influx of tourists. Now even the locals are coming in,” Collado said.
Some 21,000 tourists have already visited as of May, more than thrice of only 6,000 last year, she said.
Gaudencio Fronda, organizer of a group of fishermen ferrying tourists to Palaui and Anguib, said boat rentals also jumped because of the reality show.
“Many visitors want to see the places where the ‘castaways’ were taken to,” he said.
Boat operators have already earned P2.7 million from “castaway” tours as of May, up from P1.2 million for the whole of 2013, Fronda said.
“Our fishermen are now leaving that industry for tourism, they now only fish for extra income,” he said. (John Roson)
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