Davao Oriental to push tourism

She also invited travel agency executives and photographers Rhonson Ng and Jojie Alcantara to explain how good photographs and stories could help sell the province to the tourists.

“This is a declaration that we are serious in promoting tourism. We want to get out from the image of being a sleepy province. We want to give notice to the tourism investors too,” Malanyaon said.

Yet, local environmentalist groups said the thrust of the provincial government will eventually clash with its decision to allow mining operations in the province.

Lilia Paglinawan, program coordinator of the Interfaith Movement for Peace, Empowerment and Development, said the 21,000-hectare Mt. Hamiguitan range, one of the tourist attractions cited by the provincial government, is presently being explored for minerals by BHP Billiton Limited, a big international mining firm.

Glicerio Dagondon, executive director of Green Mindanao, said mining wastes would eventually damage Mt. Hamiguitan and the adjoining Pujada Bay, another proposed tourism attraction.

“The wastes will eventually destroy Davao Bay,” said Dagondon, whose group is monitoring the dugongs or sea cows in Pujada Bay.

Vice Gov. Joel Mayo Almario said they will not allow the mining companies to destroy Mt. Hamiguitan and Pujada Bay, which were both declared as a protected landscape and seascape area by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo through Republic Act 9303, placing these under the category of wildlife sanctuary.

Almario said a two-kilometer buffer zone rings the mountain range to protect it from mining explorations.

“Buffer zones are a joke,” Paglinawan said.

She said most of the small animals are found to live in the adjacent land beside Mt. Hamiguitan and would only come up to the mountains to feed.

Malanyaon said she was surprised how Australians expressed their interests to see the 600-hectare pygmy forest in Mt. Hamiguitan, a protected area in Davao Oriental.

“The Australians told me there are only a few places where pygmy forests can be seen,” she said.

Malanyaon said that aside from Mt. Hamiguitan and Pujada Bay, Davao Oriental has lots to offer, namely, waterfalls and small islands.

She said she would be increasing the tourism budget from the P200,000 a year allocated by the past administration. She declined to give the exact amount, saying it will be up for the Davao Oriental provincial board to determine.

Aside from budget constraints, Malanyaon said she knew that the province is facing odds when it comes to tourism. She pointed out that the province has no hotels and good restaurants and only has a few resorts with limited room capacity.

“This is why we gathered all the stakeholders to prepare them to take part in the campaign to attract tourists. We have to prepare the community,” Malanyaon said.

Opening up private houses to tourists is one strategy the provincial government is thinking to offset the problem of room capacity, she said

“We don’t have illusions that we have cable cars, hotels. What we are selling is the pristine beauty of our province. We have so much adventure and nature,” Malanyaon said.