Tag Archive: tourism


Pag-Asa (Thitu) Island. 2008 photo by author.

Pag-Asa (Thitu) Island. 2008 photo by author.

Residents in Pag-Asa (Thitu) Island have started promoting the island as a tourist destination amid tension among countries claiming the Kalayaan (Spratly) Island Group in the West Philippine Sea.

Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez, chief of the Armed Forces’ Western Command, confirmed that the tourism campaign has started albeit at a small scale, and said the military stands ready to help.

“We can help organize tour packages,” Lopez told reporters in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan.

Lopez made the remark after visiting Pag-Asa Island with Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Pio Catapang, other military officials, and reporters last Monday.

During the visit, reporters saw some residents of Pag-Asa — where only fish was peddled before — selling souvenir shirts promoting the island as a tourist spot.

White shirts printed with beaches, starfishes, aerial pictures of Pag-Asa, and other Philippine-occupied territories in the Spratlys are being sold at the Kalayaan municipal hall for P280.

One resident also makes “tuba” (coconut wine) and offers this for P75 a liter to visitors.

Such merchandise were not seen on the island before, until China boosted its presence in the West Philippine Sea.

Reclamation and construction on China-held Subi Reef as seen from Pag-Asa. Photo by author.

Reclamation and construction on China-held Subi Reef as seen from Pag-Asa. 2015 photo by author.

Chinese warships and Coast Guard vessels are frequently seen in the disputed waters while construction and reclamation works are ongoing in China-held features including Subi (Zamora) Reef, which is only about 25 kilometers from Pag-Asa.

Residents said they have also been seeing Vietnamese fishing vessels straying near Pag-Asa — particularly at a reef to the island’s east and a sandbar to the north — and carry out dynamite fishing.

Lopez said the military cannot “actually escort” tourists to Pag-Asa because that’s not in its mandate, though helping arrange tours is allowable.

In his visit, Catapang said the military will “reinforce” tourism efforts, though securing visitors would be a joint effort with Coast Guard and local government agencies because Pag-Asa is in “internal waters.”

Tours could be extended to the other Philippine-occupied islands Patag (Flat), Kota (Loaita), Panata (Lankiam), Lawak (Nanshan), Likas (West York), and even Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, he added.

Kalayaan Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon said the tourism campaign will go full scale “next year” after the town buys a 25-meter steel-hulled boat for P10 million.

The Pag-Asa airstrip's western edge. 2015 photo by author.

The Pag-Asa airstrip’s western edge. 2015 photo by author.

The boat project, which is aimed at ferrying visitors from a jump-off station from mainland Palawan, comes while the government has yet to repair the airstrip on Pag-Asa.

A chunk of the 1.3-kilometer airstrip’s western edge has eroded into the sea, though small aircraft and military planes can still land.

A “pasalubong” (souvenir) shop and lodge will also be opened on Pag-Asa to cater to tourists, Bito-onon said. (John Roson)

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Mount Tumantangis as seen from Jolo, Sulu (AFP JTG-Sulu photo)

Mount Tumantangis as seen from Jolo and Patikul, Sulu (AFP JTG-Sulu photo)

Fancy a trek to one of the Abu Sayyaf’s mountain playgrounds in Sulu? That’s in the pipeline.

Officials from different government agencies, backed by the military of course, are set to climb Bud Tumantangis, or Mount Tumantangis, on Saturday and Sunday with the aim of raising awareness for its conservation and, hopefully, promoting it as a tourist attraction.

Among those who will trek up are representatives of the Department of Tourism, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Education, Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the Sulu provincial government, said Colonel Alan Arrojado, commander of the Armed Forces’ Joint Task Group Sulu.

Two Army and Marines battalions were earlier deployed around the mountain to ensure security, he said.

Tumantangis, which straddles the towns of Indanan and Patikul, is the highest peak in the Sulu archipelago at 2,661 feet (811.0728 meters).

The peak offers a view of the entire Sulu archipelago, neighboring Basilan, and sometimes, even the Zamboanga Peninsula.

“It’s the first thing you’ll see when coming to the province by sea, and the last thing when you leave… Maganda ang sunrise at sunset. ‘Pag clear ang sky, hanggang Zamboanga makikita mo,” Arrojado said.

Tumantangis also holds historical significance as the tomb-monument of Sharif ul-Hashim Abu Bakar — the first to hold the title of “sultan” in Sulu — is on the mountain.

People interested in wildlife can also find monkeys, locally called “mamak,” at Tumantangis.

This weekend’s trek will see government officials identify areas where trails, steps, and even “base camps” can be placed for future climbers to use, Arrojado said.

“Initiative ko ito, initiative namin, kasi kung nagagawa sa ibang bundok, sa Mount Apo (in Davao), sa Bongao peak (in Tawi-Tawi), sa Mount Pulag (in Northern Luzon), why not in Sulu? ‘Yun ang approach namin ngayon dito,” he said.

The tourism projects, however, are still being planned as, unlike frequently-climbed mountains in the country, Tumantangis has one stinging problem — the Abu Sayyaf.

Members of the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf, blamed for kidnappings, killings, and bombings, are known to roam around the mountain’s foothills.

“Hindi katulad ng Mount Apo na madalas akyatin, itong Tumantangis kahit ‘yung mga taga-dito mismo sa Jolo, hindi pa nila ito naaakyat. Wala pang nakakaakyat maliban siguro sa Abu Sayyaf,” Arrojado said.

Armed elements of the Moro National Liberation Front loyal to founding chairman Nur Misuari also have encampments at the slopes, particularly in Brgy. Kadday Langpas, Indanan.

Currently, the Abu Sayyaf still holds several captives, including Ewold Horn of the Netherlands — a birdwatcher snatched in the neighboring province of Tawi-Tawi in February 2012.

While the military says that Abu Sayyaf members were last seen at Tumantangis in 2007, the last reported instance of captives being held there was in 2008, when the bandits allegedly brought ABS-CBN television reporter Ces Drilon, two of her crew, and their professor guide to the mountain.

Tumantangis, which literally means “weeping,” did not get its name from the ordeal that Abu Sayyaf captives suffered while being held there.

“Lagi kasing may tubig na bumababa sa bundok kaya para siyang umiiyak. In fact, ito ang source ng tubig sa entire Sulu Island. At ito ‘yung isa sa mga dahilan kaya bakit kailangan magkaroon ng awareness at maprotektahan ‘yung virgin forests dito,” Arrojado said.

To help achieve that, the climb will also include a tree-planting activity, he said.

Arrojado said teams of soldiers are now conducting clearing operations on Tumantangis every now and then not only to ensure the security of this weekend’s climb, but also future treks.

Once tourists come to Tumantangis, residents are expected to earn money through services that cater to needs of trekkers and backpackers, he said.

It is hoped that by then, Sulu will finally be rid of the tag of being “one of the most dangerous places on earth,” Arrojado said. (John Roson)

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Anguib Beach. Touted as Cagayan's version of Boracay with its powdery white sand and clear waters.

Anguib Beach. Touted as Cagayan’s version of Boracay with its powdery white sand and clear waters.

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.

Awareness

Patrolers. The Navy gunboat BRP Hilario Ruiz and a BFAR surveillance vessel tasked to patrol the northern seas, docked at Santa Ana's port.

Patrolers. The Navy gunboat BRP Hilario Ruiz and a BFAR surveillance vessel tasked to patrol the northern seas, docked at Santa Ana’s port.

Major 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.

Survivor

Standing tall. Lighthouse at Cape Engaño in Palaui Island where "Survivor: Cagayan" was mostly filmed.

Standing tall. Lighthouse at Cape Engaño in Palaui Island where “Survivor: Cagayan” was mostly filmed.

Previously 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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Five people, including four foreigners, were killed while at least seven were injured when Mayon Volcano in Albay spewed ash and rocks Tuesday morning, authorities said.

Rafaelito Alejandro, Office of Civil Defense-5 director, said four foreigners and a local tour guide died in the “phreatic explosion,” which occurred near the summit around 8 a.m.

The fatalities include tour guide Jerome Berin of Malilipot and three German nationals whose names have yet to be ascertained, Supt. Renato Bataller, Bicol regional police spokesman, said in a text message.

Injured are tour guide Keneth Gesalva and his Australian ward Straw Vega, as well as tour guide Jorge Cordovilla and his Thai wards Udome Kiat, Utan Ruchi, Boonchi, and Benjama, Bataller said.

Alejandro said two Air Force helicopters were sent to the volcano and were still conducting search and rescue operations as of Tuesday afternoon, to locate the hikers.

Alejandro said his office has yet to receive information if the explosion affected people living near the volcano, which is geographically shared by Legazpi City, Daraga, Camalig, Guinobatan, Ligao City, Tabaco City, Malilipot, and Santo Domingo.

“So far wala, ang report pa lang dito is ‘yung mga nag-tour doon, ‘yung umakyat,” Alejandro said.

Bataller said it is the first time since 1993 that Mayon Volcano acted up “without a warning.”

“Para itong ‘yung noong 1993 na nag-erupt nang walang kawarning-warning. Dati-rati kasi nagpaparamdam ito, may mga pagyanig kang mararamdaman. Noong 1993, bigla siyang nagbuga at mahigit 70 katao ang namatay,” he said. (John Roson)

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7 killed in Olongapo City hotel fire

Seven people, including five foreigners, were killed in a hotel fire in Olongapo City early Friday, authorities said.

Those killed included Americans James Brigati, Patrick Burt, Joseph Bulari, Korean Kyung Ook Kim, and two Filipinos, Supt. Jose Hidalgo, officer-in-charge of the Olongapo City Police said in a text message.

A fifth foreigner, believed to be from the United Kingdom, also died in the fire at the two-storey hotel, Insp. Jose Borlagdatan, chief investigator of the Olongapo City Fire Station, said in a phone interview.

The casualties’ names were based on the hotel’s logbook, Borlagdatan said.

Fire razed the Dryden Hotel Bar and Restaurant along the National Highway in Brgy. Barreto around 3:30 a.m.

The cause of the fire is still being determined, Borlagdatan said. (John Roson)

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Landslide in Brgy. Libertad, Nabas town. (Photo courtesy of Aklan PNP)

Hundreds of people, including foreign and local tourists, were stranded when a landslide hit a portion of the highway in Nabas, Aklan, leading to Boracay Island, Monday afternoon, police said.

Mud and rocks fell around 1 p.m. along National Highway in Brgy. Libertad, Supt. Ranulfo Demiar, operations chief of the Western Visayas regional police, said.

“Ten to 15 meters of the highway was covered by the mudflow. No vehicles can pass, both coming in and out of Caticlan, Malay,” Demiar said in a text message.

Stranded people, including foreign tourists, climb over the debris to catch up with their schedule. (Photo courtesy of Aklan PNP)

“Kung bibilangin natin, more than 100 vehicles, including tourist buses and passenger vans, ang nade-delay, naka-line up lahat. Maraming tourists going to and from Boracay ang affected,” Senior Insp. Reynante Matillano, Nabas Police chief, said by phone.

Heavy equipment from the provincial government were sent to clear the debris.

As of 5 p.m., one lane of the highway has been cleared so vehicles are now taking turns in passing through, Matillano said. (John Roson)

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