BAN on stopping of all modes of transportation or dropping by the tourists along the two-kilometer stretch of man-made forest will soon be carried out apparently for public safety purposes and ultimately to avert the “illegal” vending at the said area bordering the towns of Loboc and Bilar. This was an offshoot of the Provincial Tourism Council (PTC) executive committee meeting last week presided over by its chair lawyer Lucas M. Nunag with the presence of the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) officer-in-charge Nestor Canda who shed light on the issue of illegal vending. PTC has expressed alarm over the alleged illegal peddling of souvenir items sold by local enterprising residents for tourists dropping by the man-made forest.
The move of the PTC and the PENRO will likely be an uphill battle in stopping the peddling at man-made forest since it has the blessing of the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) for Loboc Watershed Forest Reserve and ultimately by the municipal mayors concerned. The council has passed Resolution No. 05 series of 2012 approved by its executive committee in recent meeting. It asked Gov. Edgar Chatto and the Sangguniang Panlalawigan “to look into the proliferation of selling activity at the man-made forest and take appropriate steps to address” the selling activity. At the same time, the council moved to request the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to take appropriate action to prevent the said activity in said forest. “The presence of vendors and their structures at the man-made forest will seriously compromise the area’s value as a tourism and environmental asset,” the PTC said.
It added that “commercial activity and related structures will impair the visitor’s experience of communing with nature; commercial activity will likely produce litter and trash as well as create other sanitation problems; the presence of vendors and the resulting traffic of vehicles and people who will stop at the roadsides will raise a serious safety issue; and the make-shift structures and materials of the vendors will stick out as eyesores defacing the natural beauty of the forest.” The resolution was signed by Nunag and certified by secretary Josephine R. Cabarrus, provincial tourism officer. As this developed, PMB has recently given the go-signal for vendors to ply their trade in souvenir and related items to passers-by who make stops-over for photo shots at man-made forest bordering this town and Loboc provided vendors follow the regulations imposed on them. This surfaced during the PAMB meeting last March in Batuan town despite the ban on selling the items on protected areas like LWFR.
Tourists from U.S.A., whose identities are withheld and some local tourists being interviewed after having observed the unregulated selling at man-made forest, said that vending at protected areas could open the floodgates of destruction and such activity (ambulant vending) runs counter to eco-tourism of a certain area. In his letter to Mayors Norman Palacio here and Leon Calipusan of Loboc, Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer Nestor Canda said that ambulant vending within the forest in Barangay Upper Bonbon and Candabong, Loboc town, “was criticized as an eyesore to tourists who drop or pass by the man-made forest.” Canda called the attention of three mayors of Loboc, Bilar and Sevilla to stop the vendors concerned in their respective turfs but they appeared ignoring the request despite repeated notice issued to vendors and their commitment to stop plying their trade. Vending “is not yet compatible to what the policies of PAMB and the NIPAS law in general,” Canda stressed. He said he even convened the vendors in a meeting sometime last year and the latter promised to stop their trade but still they ignored it.
Despite this prevailing scenario, PAMB still approves the vending at man-made forest following its approval of the Loboc Tourism Development Plan. The plan, if realized, will put up a parking space, comfort rooms, shop area and food court-type of eatery within the forested area. NIPAS Act provides, “PAMB has the responsibility to manage the protected areas, and to regulate the protected area users and that (there) management zones to be followed.” The National Integrated Protected Areas Systems (NIPAS) ACT, known as Republic Act No. provides also provides for prohibited acts, such as, “Constructing or maintaining any kind of structure, fence, or enclosures, conducting any business enterprise without a permit” is banned under paragraph (g), Section 20 of said law. And violation of this provision is penalized with fine of PhP5,000 up to PhP500,000 or imprisonment of not less than one year up to six (6) years “as determined by the court,” section 21 of the same law provides.
PAMB’s go-signal for the vending at man-made forest said “ambulant vendors to sell souvenir items to guests without payment under the Integrated Protected Area Fund (IPAF) until such time the LGU-Loboc can secure the tenurial instrument from the PAMB.” The vendors should follow the conditions set by PAMB, like: Vendors shall be managed by PAMB; they’ll provide their own table to display their wares; they’ll stay permanent place instead of peddling; they have to maintain cleanliness; they’ll only sell souvenir items. Failure on their part means removal of their trade. Mayor Calipusan told the meeting his administration “is also concerned on the ambulant vendors within man-made forest because most of them are from Loboc.” He called on the town tourism officer “to have a win-win solution between the stakeholders and LGU.” This prompted tourism officer Teodosia Bernaldez to present the tourism development plan for the man-made forest area. Based on the presentation, the plan would, if realized, turn the man-made forest into a shopping area. Short-term plan indicates the construction of souvenir shops; food court; comfort rooms; and parking area. Also included are the following activities/programs: tree planting by vendors and LGU and adopt-a-tree by guests.
Under the so-called long term thrusts, visitors management strategies, site management, direct and indirect regulations are being drawn. Loboc expects the plan would generate benefits such as civic involvement, financial contributions to government revenues, improve environmental management/planning, awareness, protection/preservation of the environment. The plan or project of converting the man-made forest into a shopping haven will be co-managed by PAMB and Loboc town. As to the planned tower to be erected based on the blueprint, Bernaldez assured PAMB that it (tower) will not be built just like “no cutting of trees” nearby “during and after the construction” of the facilities (food court, souvenir shops, parking area). The plan was adopted by the PAMB without objection following the motion of Eduardo Sumampong during the March 30, 2012 PAMB meeting held in Balay sa Humay, Batuan town. (RVO)