Controversial Lafayette urged to help build ecotourism
RAPU-RAPU, Albay — The inter-agency Bicol Eco-tourism Committee is banking on Lafayette Philippines Inc. to help develop an ecotourism zone in this island town, where the Australian corporation operates a controversial 17-hectare open-pit copper and zinc mine.
Nini Ravanilla, regional director of the Department of Tourism (DoT) in Bicol, said the committee is drafting a tourism development plan, whose focus will be the “Balik Biyaya” program.
In a visit to the mine site Monday, the committee urged the mining corporation to offer logistical support like putting up development facilities to attract tourists to fourth class Rapu-Rapu town, which is part of the Bicol region’s identified tourism circuit.
Ravanilla said the Balik Biyaya program will bring socio-economic benefits to the mining firm’s host community.
“If the mining firm will invest on ecotourism rather than on dole-outs and one-time events, it will leave a sustainable impact on the host community. Tourism will boost local economic growth,” Ravanilla said.
Lafayette, which produces some 3,000 tons of ore per day and expects to mine one million tons per year for the next five years, claimed to have spent P15.4 million on social development projects from 2000 to 2006, with another P28.1 million earmarked for 2007.
Committee consultant Dante Intong said they are now studying potential tourist spots that can be developed as the island town’s tourism icon like Mt. Mayon of Albay and the whale shark of Donsol, Sorsogon.
Intong said Rapu-Rapu island has extraordinary coral reefs and divesites. There are also long white-sand beaches, backdropped by green hillsides, in Barangay (village) Mananao, and nearby villages where turtles reportedly breed.
He said the mine site itself can also be turned into a tourist destination if developed for such purpose just like the Bacon-Manito geothermal plant, which now has an ecotourism park, a bat sanctuary and twin falls within its confines.
Intong urged the government to strengthen its coastal resource management program in order to preserve the region’s rich marine resources.
However, Intong observed that local government officials usually have little political will to implement stringent preservation and conservation measures.
“Since Lafayette occupies a big portion of the island, it should be one of the primary stakeholders of ecotourism. Also, the mining firm has a social responsibility to fulfill,” Intong said.
He added that host communities cannot get much from the revenues of the mining firm since it was declared by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as a Special Economic Zone through Proclamation 625, which deprives the town and the province of royalty.
“As early as now the corporation has to start living up to its social responsibilities so that when they leave after five years, we will see that the community’s standard of living had been uplifted,” Intong said.
The three communities on which Lafayette has a direct impact are the villages of Pagcolbon, Malobago, and Binosawan and its three indirect impact communities are Linao, Tinopan, and Sta. Barbara.
Rapu-Rapu island can be reached via a two-hour pump-boat ride across the Albay Gulf from the port of Legazpi City or 45 minutes from Sorsogon province