Tourism development, where do we draw the line?
‘Twas 04:30 in the morning, a medium built guy was knocking at the gate with a motorbike asking, “tao po? tao po?” I came to my senses and jumped outside my hut to say, ”give me five minutes.” Went back in, dressed up, grabbed my bag then hurried out the gate. ”Good morning po,” he said, ”Good morning din,hindi ako na gising sa alarm!” (good morning too, I didn’t hear my alarm!) I replied. At that moment, he kickstarted the motorbike and we drove off the dark, unpaved roads to barangay Guinsaanan. My driver for the day was Edmond, a local surf instructor and sometimes driver guide. Met him thru a local friend, Ferdie, who showed my Carorian Wonders. My hideaway was roughly 30 minutes away from another wonder.
Edmond and I arrived at a dim lit parking lot. He walked me at the registration center, paid dues and I was assigned a local guide while my driver waited for me at the base. ”Good morning ma’am, ok na po kayo?” (ok, are you ready?) a woman in her late 50s to early 60s asked. Still half asleep, I nodded and she said, ”Ok, tara na po,” (Ok, let’s go.) She led the way towards the open beach, wait, where’s the road?
I guess we’ll take the road less traveled, perhaps no road at all. Started with boulders at the coast then trek thru a forest to reach our destination. Great, I was wearing a white dress and flipflops, didn’t know about the trek. But who cares? Roughly 20 minutes in, we’re almost there and just right in time for dawn. Grassy terrain with a light mist welcomed us. As the sun rises, the coast was slowly revealing its wonder. Howling winds naturally carved the breathtaking coastlines of Catanduanes. Binurong Point in barangay Guinsaanan in the town of Baras is one of those. Binurong’s so serene and visually satisfying. 180 degrees of picturesque natural wonder. I felt so envious of the people of Catanduanes since postcard-worthy places are conveniently within reach. Still thankful to have seen such an amazing attraction shared by the locals.
It has been more than a year when I last visited Catanduanes. But I remember my solo trip like it was just last weekend. Then news broke last Friday, 9th of November, that Binurong is now CLOSED INDEFINITELY. I started seeing advisories from Ms. Carmel Bonifacio Garcia, of the DOT Catanduanes, on social media. Was so confused why it escalated quickly and resulted to closure. I checked with my local friends and asked what’s going on. The root cause was a social media post that was blown out of proportion.
Not many people knew that Binurong area is actually privately owned land by the Joson – Sorreta family. The Sorreta family together with their guests, Koni Philippines, had an expedition to Binurong while riding 4×4 vehicles. Shared posts and comments came pouring in without a warning. These unsolicited comments were about ”environmental concerns” as roads are now being constructed in the area. Though as per sources, there were photos included in some posts that were NOT taken in Binurong area. Plus claims that because of the 4x4s spent the night at the coast, they vandalized nature. The incident pushed the owners to close Binurong to the public. Mr. Vicente ”Teng” Sorreta, in behalf of the family, shared their side via a social media post.
“We closed Binurong Point not after the authorized expedition (where Papa was able to see it again after forty years), but rather after the irresponsible posts of netizens that brought undue anxiety and emotional stress to my family, specially to my 88 year old father, a true blooded Catandungon, (Catanduanes National High School 1949) a retired AFP officer (PMA 1954) and a veteran of the Vietnam War.
Why share a private place of majestic beauty to people who end up persecuting you? In my personal opinion, opening it up to the public years ago was a big mistake.
It is not our responsibility to open a venue for hundreds of families to derive income from. My father’s love for the people of Baras, specially to people in Barangay Guinsaanan is dumbfounding. He does not derive income from it yet he spends so much time and effort to help the people in Guinsaanan.
The kids of the school there were gifted with multiple brand new personal computers by our generous friends. It was the first time that Guinsaanan kids saw a computer. Medical and dental missions were conducted with volunteers and supplies donated again by generous friends that papa approached.
During one of these events (dental mission) that I was privileged to participate in, I asked an old lady why she was crying. I thought it was from the pain of having had three extractions at that time. But she replied that she was shedding tears of joy, because after years of suffering the pain from her teeth (she couldn’t even afford transportation to the nearest dentist), she’s finally free.
Before we started the expedition (I was driving the lead car), my companions brought school supplies, oral hygiene kits and vitamins for about 100 children. Papa distributed medicines and vitamins to the tour guide families. Papa was even disappointed in me for not being able to secure first aid kits for the tour guides so that they can use it if required by the tourists. I’ve seen people we don’t even know come and are happy to help, either with essential items and/or knowledge and skills to share.
I frequented Binurong decades ago when I was a lot younger. I saw the people living in poverty. I didn’t even think it was possible for them to rise above their conditions without leaving the barangay. It took us about 3 hours to get there on a 4×4 because there were no roads. Look at their faces now when visitors arrive, they welcome everyone with smiles, eager to show outsiders the beauty of Binurong Point and at the same time derive income to feed their families. The government has built cemented roads leading to the barangay to not only allow tourists to visit but to enable residents to bring their agricultural harvests to buyers in other towns.
It wasn’t easy for them at the start. But with the help of many people, including local government units, they were able to organize themselves, making sure that each family had a tour guide and that assignments are rotated so that everyone gets a fair share of the income.
Binurong Point is indefinitely closed to the public . We, as a family will take this time to contemplate on the future of Binurong Point.
On a positive note, Papa is organizing a trip to Binurong Point for senior citizens and veterans who couldn’t enjoy the beauty of the place as they are not physically able to trek the hike up to it. I am also in talks with a group that organizes trips for kids who are physically challenged, I can’t wait to see their faces when they see the three points of Binurong Point. And yes these two groups will enjoy it for free and be treated as VIPs by Papa and our family.
Development Through Tourism
Guisaanan is considered as one of the rural barangays in Baras, a 5th class municipality. Despite being a humble community, it boasts natural wonders like Puraran Beach, Balacay Point, and Binurong. Tourism in the area has given direct and indirect livelihood for the natives. Most importantly, urban development. But is that a bad thing? Construction of any kind would require some sort of a mess first then trim down to just the essentials. Road construction may warrant to cut trees down, scrape a portion of a mountain and reclaim water forms. Thus, development may be the enemy of nature. Though there are ways to build around nature.
To shed light on Binurong’s case, yes roads are being constructed in the area but not thru the trekking trail. And this is confirmed by other concerned locals who shared photos via social media.
Also since it’s privately owned land, the owners can construct roads as they pleased, sure. But LAWS STILL APPLY especially if it involves tree cutting, as a requirement of the Department of Natural Resources and Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (DENR-CENRO).
My Take Away
For someone who fell in love with Catanduanes three-four years ago, I’m really saddened by this fiasco. And the first thing that popped in my head was my guide and the rest of the locals in Binurong. Since the place opened for public viewing a few years ago, it became the main source of income for most locals. Though it’s definitely not the owners’ responsibility yes, however, to abruptly cut people’s livelihood can be devastating.
”Binurong” is also a Bicol word meaning “healed,” I’m praying that this incident would open a better road to Binurong.
Due to the numerous messages of support and requests that our family received and for the livelihood of the people in Guinsanan, Baras, Catanduanes, our family has decided to open Binurong Point to the public starting 5 December 2018. – Col Jose C. Sorreta (Ret) & Sons.