Bernardo M. Villegas
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Tourism Can Promote Inclusive Growth (Part 2)

           Then there is Laida Escoltura in Siargao Island, Surigao del Norte.  To support her ten children, she seized the opportunity of catering to the many surfers, both Filipinos and foreigners, who discovered the secrets of Siargao Island as a surfing paradise.   She set up a carenderia to serve affordable but satisfying dishes for the visitors.  As the number of visitors grew, she decided to create a beachfront business that today keeps not just her family fed, but those of others in her community.  Thanks to her improved income, her five younger children have been able to go to college, unlike the first five who had to stop going to school when the surfing business was still underdeveloped.  Two of her children have become surfing experts and have been winning surfing competitions.  Laida is now a proud owner of a piece of land in the island.  Through tourism’s success in her area, her children can finally dream bigger and live better.   Here again, Laida’s example would not be difficult to follow among similarly situated rural families in the other surfing capitals of the Philippines i.e. Baler, Aurora and San Juan, La Union.       

          Another story in the book Tourism Stories illustrates how tourism leads to inclusive growth.  Angelo Cayabo of Puerto Princesa City, Palawan went from dishwasher to tour operator.   At the age of 17, he could not see past the dishes in front of him.  He also sidelined as an “extra waiter.”  He was typical of the underemployed workers in the country.  Since he was not making enough even in his two jobs, he was still looking for other work.  He then turned to driving a tricycle, a motorcycle outfitted with a sidebar for paying passengers.  This work was too taxing that he eventually had to return to the restaurant business, bussing out plates in a department store cafeteria. Even then, his family was still living hand to mouth.  Then he went from one tourism-related occupation to another:  bellman-driver in a hotel, airport reception staff to welcome the hotel guests, tour guide.  Ironically, the income he earned as a tour guide encouraged him to leave tourism to join the tuna fishing industry.  It was in this occupation that his eyes were opened to the opportunities of becoming the first dolphin watching operator in Palawan. 

          As Tourism Stories narrates: There they were, hundreds of Spinner Dolphins coming out at the same time as his fishing boat was passing.  This made him think hard and do research on dolphin watching.   He realized that it was already being done in other parts of the Philippines, as in Bohol and Dumaguete.  He saw this as an opportunity to create work for himself and others like him.  He then decided to abandon fishing and go into the business of helping tourists in dolphin watching.  Realizing that dolphins appear in the area only during limited seasons, he added more programs he could offer to increase the number of tourists who would visit Palawan.  He added whale shark watching.  Finally, he found out about the attraction of fireflies so he started to offer this nocturnal activity coupled with a dinner cruise.  Three calendar cycles later, he earned enough to invest in a fully functioning local tour operator, purchasing three big boats and three vans.  The example of Angelo shows how the tourism industry can create entrepreneurs among low-income households in the countryside, who in turn can create many employment opportunities for others.  As he concluded his interview: “My success also affected the lives of my employees.  They were able to have their diplomas, buy their own vehicles and start their own businesses in addition to working for me.”

          Finally, there is the story of Alonzo Saclag, a member of an indigenous tribe, who was awarded by the Philippine Government the “National Living Treasure” for performing arts, the highest recognition given to a Filipino artist.  Some forty years ago, he was inspired by two foreign visitors to look more closely into the uniqueness and beauty of the Kalinga culture.  He decided to study every aspect of Kalinga dance and music, including the clothing that formed an important part of his culture.  He started to go from one school to another, teaching the young ones to embrace the cultural traditions they were slowly losing.  His efforts reverberated beyond the confines of his own community.  His efforts evolved into a national awareness of Kalinga culture.  He organized a group that was invited to perform and compete in Manila and in other parts of the country, and soon in other parts of the world, making known to all and sundry a unique culture that spans thousands of years and “unbowed by colonial and modern practices.” 

          Today, Alonzo is carrying out his dream project, the Kalinga Center for Culture and Arts,  in his village of Awichon, Lubuagan, Kalinga.  His whole family is involved in the project.   In the building of the Center, every structure is meticulously made by hand, following the traditional construction practice of the Kalingas.  No iron nails are used, as wooden pegs were the only available materials in the old days. Filipino tourists should be the first ones to appreciate what Alonzo and his relatives and friends are putting up:  They will not only witness and experience Kalinga culture, but will leave the scenic environment in awe: “As the visitors enjoy the breathtaking mountain views through the windows of authentic Kalinga houses, they are being prepped up to witness cultural sharing that stays true to the traditional Kalinga culture.  And perhaps, around a bonfire, participate in dances accompanied by gongs (gangsa) that reverberate in the mountain tops.”

            In addition to these stories, there are fifteen more.  As former Secretary of Tourism Ramon Jimenez wrote in the Foreword to the book, “Coming from different backgrounds, our Filipino front liners have their own distinct stories to share:  from how they have been drawn to the tourism business to how they have merged as stronger, more resilient individuals and communities, despite crises and challenges.”  Those interested in obtaining a copy of the book may get in touch with the Office of the Department of Tourism.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.