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TOURISM-TRASHING

The island-hopping trip we had last Sunday was full of realizations. Some were personal like how I have been missing a lot by being stationary most of the time in a city that demands so much from your time. Talk about traffic! But it has also opened my eyes from a lot of things – the booming tourism industry for one.

Tourism is good for us. It brings in the dollars that we need. We want more tourists. We want them to splurge. And we want to show-off the beauty of our tropical paradise. We want to show them that our country is more beautiful than our Southeast Asian counterparts and that it is more fun in the Philippines. At the outset it’s all flowers and sun and turquoise colored beaches. It’s all happy and exciting. But there is a dark side of the industry too that few really talk about.

We were swimming at Talima Sanctuary when a waveful of garbage swamped at us. There were plastics of all sorts – cellophanes of emptied Korean ramens, junk food, plastic bags, slippers and a back pack. And so some of us started picking up the plastic that got near us. The foreigners with us didn’t say a word about the filth but they were kind enough to initiate picking up the garbage. They probably didn’t say a word not to offend us or might have been talking in their own dialect so that we won’t understand. The experience did say a lot about how we take care of our environment and what is for us in exchange of the dollars we get from tourism. The place is a sanctuary and in sanctuaries, one does not expect trash splashing at you when you’re snorkeling and busy looking for nemo.

It is well taken that somehow, we are bound to give up something in exchange for a booming tourism industry. The least we can do however is to set up ways to minimize its ill effects if not stop it. The thing is we leave throwing of garbage to the conscience of the tourists. But that doesn’t really work most of the time.

The prospect that the industry that feeds hundreds of thousands of Filipinos will be the very industry that would betray them in the not so near future is very frightening. It seemed to me that we haven’t developed a culture yet of instilling care for the environment while enjoying the beauty of our clear-blue waters. A simple reminder at the start of any cruise about the place we are going to visit and the do’s and don’t’s can make a difference. Telling simply anyone who visits the sanctuary that there is a garbage can on the boat to throw in their trash would help. We need not shoo away tourists, we need them however to help us maintain the health of our treasured tourist attractions. But we have to start with ourselves too.

When I was talking to the boatman, he told me that Mactan is not near from submerging into sea. He said with the saddest eyes that buildings have been sprouting in the island like mushrooms in recent years and might be too heavy for the island to support. I thought it was far-fetched. He wasn’t an engineer or geologist or something to make a scientific conclusion over the doom of the island. I tried to read between his lines and I thought that what he was really saying was in two parts: One, the development of the island has brought about a lot of detriment to the beauty of what it once was and second, the buildings he was talking about are not really for Juan dela Cruz’ pleasure.

I couldn’t blame manong. He must have grown up in the island. He must have seen the beauty it was once sans the buildings and when the beaches were open to the public to use. It was difficult for me because from afar, I could only see beauty in the spots of white sand beaches and towering first-class resorts and fun from the house music that reverberates from Shangri La where a BPO company was having their summer party. His view was very different from mine. But for a minute, it was as if I borrowed his lenses and saw what he was talking about. The glistening hotels looked like invaders - almost unnatural. Against the setting sun, the island suddenly cast a certain sadness on me because, true to manong’s word, I haven’t been in any of the posh resorts if not for company summer parties. And so how much more for most Pinoys.

They say we are lucky we are in a paradise. It’s wishful thinking to conclude that we all are.

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