Zambo crisis prompts postponement of ZamPen Cave Summit, 9th National Bird Fest

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/ 20 September)—Two major ecotourism-related events here—the Zamboanga Peninsula Cave Summit and the 9th National Bird Festival—have been postponed due to the ongoing armed conflict.

Mary Jane Bugante, Department of Tourism Region 9 director, and Roservirico Tan, Department of Environment and Natural Resources Region 9 information officer, confirmed to MindaNews the postponement in separate interviews.

Tan said that the postponement was owing to the security crisis in the city, involving combatants of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and government forces, which began on September 9.

“Spelunkers and cavers from all over the region, including spelunkers from Belgium, are expected to come to the regional cave summit,” Tan said.

The Cave Summit, which was originally set on October 1-2, was moved to November. It was supposed to be the opening event for the month-long Octoberfest that is celebrated by Zamboangueños across the world in honor of the city’s patron, the Lady of the Pillar, whose shrine stands at the historic Fort Pilar.

“We would like to showcase the beauty of the caves here in Zamboanga City. We have more or less 600 caves here. This event would enhance the ecotourism potentials of these caves,” Tan emphasized.

“The Bird Festival is also an international event as we invited birdwatchers from Europe and from other parts of the country. It was also postponed indefinitely,” Tan added.

The 9th National Bird Festival was originally set on October 4-5, but with the security crisis the city is currently going through, the regional tourism office decided to move this to an indefinite date, according to Bugante.

“The Wild Bird Club of the Philippines is committed to hold it here, as stated by Gina Mapua, its president. Safety is a priority concern,” she added.

Earlier, Bugante stated that Zamboanga “is not withdrawing” from its commitment to host the event.

Zamboanga City Mayor Beng Climaco-Salazar told MindaNews that prior to this ongoing armed conflict, the city was bracing to launch its tourism campaign “Zoom In, Zamboanga” as its market brand for the upcoming Fiesta Hermosa.

Meanwhile, commercial flights to the city are now back. As of Friday, Bugante said Cebu Pacific (CebuPac) has resumed with one round-trip flight while Philippine Airlines (PAL) has two to accommodate those who have been stranded for days.

Intra-island (Mindanao) flights have not yet been scheduled.

Under the revised flight times, CebuPac Flight 5J853 departs Manila at 11 a.m. and arrives at 12:30 p.m., and 5J854 flies out at 1:30 p.m. and arrives at 3:10 p.m. in Manila.

On the other hand, PAL’s 2P993 leaves Manila at 9 a.m. and arrives here at 10:40 a.m. Flight 2P994 is set to take off at 11:10 a.m. and arrives in Manila at 12:40 p.m. PAL’s 2P997 departs Manila at 1:50 p.m. and arrives 3:30 p.m. Its 2P998 flight leaves Zamboanga at 4 p.m. and arrives in Manila at 5:30 p.m.

The above flight schedules are only for September 20, as both airlines have yet to make further announcements. (Frencie Carreon/MindaNews)