By Joyce Jayme
Palaui Island in Sta. Ana, Cagayan is a 7,415 hectare island that has been declared as a Marine Reserve under the NIPAS Law and categorized as a Protected Landscape and Seascape. The island boasts a rich biodiversity, including primary and secondary forests, mangroves, coral reefs, caves, grasslands, inter-tidal zones and seagrass meadows, among others. It is part of the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport (CSEZFP), which is managed by the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA).
The Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA) now benchmarks 55 ecotourism enterprises in 22 sites of the provinces of Cagayan, Cebu, Davao Oriental, Masbate, Siguijor and Zambales. This can be attributed to CEZA’s best practices with its community-based sustainable tourism (CBST) program, which has launched the Palaui Island Protected Landscape and Seascape (PIPLS) as its pioneer site in 2006.
CEZA, being a government-owned and controlled corporation that manages the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport (CSEZFP) including the magnificent Palaui Island of Sta. Ana, Cagayan, has implemented this pioneer CBST program as part of Lingkod-CEZA and advocated on grassroots campaign and integrated tourism promotions, respect to indigenous people’s rights and environmental protection and preservation. The Palaui Environmental Protectors Association (PEPA), which consists of island residents, was initially formed by CEZA to provide various services for guests and tourists going to Palaui.
These practices are in line with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau’s (DENR-PAWB) Integrated Coastal Resource Management (ICRM) Component C Project that seeks to provide sustainable livelihood for marginalized stakeholders and to protect the natural environment at the same time. Chen Mencias, a consultant specializing on sustainable tourism development planning among others, has highly recognize the value of CEZA’s CBST program and later regarded it as an excellent model for PAWB’s ICRM ecotourism sites.
Mobilizing community for ecotourism promotions, among the valuable concepts replicated from CEZA’s CBST embrace (1) inclusive growth through the Chain of Prosperity model where the value chain has been strengthened and extended from the private sector to community micro enterprises, (2) capacity building to establish the community members as major players in the delivery of various ecotourism services, (3) institutional development to enhance a community tourism industry where primary and secondary micro enterprises are established to support each other, and (4) unified ecotourism interpretation, integrating the natural environment, the community and the tourist and bringing a sense of connectivity between and among nature and people.
Two Lingkod-CEZA beneficiaries were awarded of “Inang Kalikasan” awards by the PAWB during its ICRM Project Component C Forum on July 16, 2013 at La Breza Hotel, Mother Ignacia Street, Quezon City. Palaui Island camp manager Charlie Acebedo was recognized for his dedication in the promotion of Palaui Island and his devotion to the development of the island’s Bayanihan Hall. A post humus award was also given to the late Joni Gagote for his continued support and dedication to the island’s ecotourism undertakings. His award was received by his son Isabelo Gagote.
ICRMP Component C beneficiaries are trained as reef rangers or snorkeling guides, paddling guides, trek guides or birding guides, among others. The training program aims to capacitate the community and to provide life-enhancing experiences to visitors of their communities. It also includes secondary enterprises, such as catering, arts and craft, community spa and nature village, among others, to supplement the tourism needs.
CEZA CEO and Administrator Jose Mari Ponce says that this ecotourism campaign has allowed them to hit three birds with one stone – to capacitate the grassroots society and eventually make them economically self-reliant, to participate in the protection and preservation of the environment, and to promote Palaui Island as a tourism and educational site. “We are proud to be the ecotourism model of the country and gladly impart our expertise to promote an environmentally sound and inclusive approach to tourism”, Ponce adds.
PAWB Assistant Director Nelson Devanadera echoes Ponce and stresses that the establishment of ecotourism enterprises promotes inclusive growth as the organized groups of farmers, fisher folks, housewives and out of school youth become part of the tourism value chain and earn supplemental income. PAWB Director Theresa Mundita Lim adds that each of the 22 ICRMP sites nationwide that has mirrored CEZA’s CBST program has its unique characteristics that make it a potential ecotourism heritage.
Being a protected area and a marine sanctuary, under the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Law, Palaui Island has maintained a rich biodiversity of both flora and fauna. The island’s trails cover thick forests, a number of natural waterfalls, caves, mangroves, seagrass, a magnificent landscape and seascape view and a century-old Cape Engaño Lighthouse, among others. Coral reefs and marine lives thrive in this sanctuary. Environmentalists and scientists alike always get astounded upon exploring the excellent state of the ecosystems and the rich biodiversity of the Island and see it being potential for recreation, adventure and education.
CEZA Deputy Administrator Geoffrey Cabalza is optimistic that the magnificent beauty of the island, together with continued community intervention through Lingkod-CEZA’s CBST program, will put this untamed beauty into the international tourism industry.
Today, PEPA has expanded and created five sub-groups dedicated to cater specific services such as tour guide, catering, reef rangers, spa and to complement tourism-related ventures such as manufacturing souvenir items like the organic Dorsata Honey endemic to the island and hand-woven crafts made of pandan and nito also endemic to the area. CEZA is continually working with the DENR and other agencies for its Lingkod-CEZA and community-based sustainable tourism undertakings.