Aside from gold, the natural and man-made majestic beauties had drawn Itogon, Benguet on the map of top tourist destinations in the region. However, the payment of the few moments of thrill and adventure could harm the community, especially on its environmental and cultural aspect.
This was revealed in the 2015 undergraduate study of Ferly May M. Balalong, a graduate of Bachelor of Science in Development Communication of Benguet State University, entitled “Itogon, Ekakanas Jen Dugad Ja Panpasyalan: Perceptions and Challenges of the Tourism Industry in Itogon Benguet”.
According to the study, tourism in Itogon started when the community noticed the regular arrival of tourists bound to Mt. Ugo, Binga Dam, Crosby Park, and Balatoc Mines Underground Tour in 2002. After 4 years, the municipality started then to collect visitor arrivals data to be submitted to the Provincial Tourism Operations Office and the Department of Tourism.
As the local government noticed the potential of tourism, some of the natural spots were made into tourist attractions like Asin Hot Spring, Monso Cave, Bidawan (Ave Maria) Mountain, Daynet Campsite, Mount Ugo, Suyok Falls, Mount Marikit, Agno River, and Mummies of Domolpos. Moreover, among the man-made tourist spots which also made Itogon more famous are the San Roque Dam, 1300 level fish ponds, and 1300 level hot springs.
Unexpected changes due to tourism
According to the study of Balalong, the major affected areas due to booming tourism in Itogon is the environment. The respondents of the study said that the tourist, visitors and even locals in the community are presently a threat to the municipality’s biodiversity. This is through illegal logging, slash and burn, land conversion, and destructive fishing.
According to Geneski Canite, a key informant in the study, the case of slash and burn of mountains within their community is because of greed or jealousy of some residents or visitors to other members of the community, leading them to burn some parts of the mountain. Meanwhile, others were done by tourists without discipline or people who illegally enter the community, just like in Mount Ugo, wherein, some are entering through Nueva Viscaya and not the prescribed route.
Further, over-exploitation or harvesting species from the wild at a faster rate has also been a result of the increasing tourists.
Other visitors who discovered the potential of mining in the municipality have already invaded and occupied some of the protected areas. As a result, the chemicals being used by the mining industries affected the rivers and other tourist destinations found within the municipality such as Binga Dam and Agno River. Thus, if more small-scale mines will be created around Itogon, it may lead to more serious environmental degradation.
“Because of tourism in Itogon, improper waste management worsened since many of the visitors just dump their waste anywhere,” expressed Jenny Joy Nabaysan, a resident of the municipality.
The improper management of wastes is coupled by greater garbage produced by business establishments related to tourism industry. This is further aggravated by the coming of vendors who found selling in Itogon a good business opportunity.
Aside from destruction of environment, the culture of the community is being affected also. Accordingly, may were lost just like the local language. This is attributed to the different language used by the tourist or visitors who come in the place.
According to Grace Sanil, another respondent in the study, the children learned to speak Ilokano, hence, ignoring their mother tongue which is of Ibaloi. Some of the community members also need to learn the national and even international language for them communicate with the tourist.
The coming of many tourists also made them Christianize. Thus, leading them to stop or forget their olden practices.
Further, some of the respondents stated that there are outsiders who goes inside Itogon to look for something to steal. Accordingly, this happened when one of the five mummies of Domolpos was stolen by an unknown foreigner who stayed in the community for days.
Recognizing some resolutions
According to the study, some environmental problems like illegal logging were minimized through the assigned bantay gubat such as barangay tanods, barangay kagawads, and volunteers who roam around to protect the mountains and to lessen as well the environment degradation in their community.
Moreover, Flordeliza Diase, former Municipal Tourism Action Officer (MTAO) said that the municipality has to be stricter in protecting and improving in implementing the ordinances which protects the environment.
There is also a need for network linkage from Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and other supporting agencies to create and reproduce Information and Education Campaign materials for awareness on the ordinances on environmental protection. They should also encourage and set up meetings to empower community members for the the protection of the environment.
Further, for the issue on culture, former Itogon Mayor Victor Palangdan said that during special events like fiestas or anniversaries, it is there where they practice and show their culture and traditions to the visitors/ tourists who come within the municipality.
Also, Barangay Tinongdan and Poblacion, have established a School of Living Tradition (SLV), which is a joint project of National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and LGU to preserve, practice and document their culture.
Lastly, Balalong recommended that the LGU, BLGU and other supporting agencies within the municipality may come up with stricter compliance to the policies and implementation of programs, projects and activities for the protection and management of the natural resources, cultural integrity and economic growth to ensure the development of the whole community.
Truly, there are number of benefits of tourism for both the tourist and the host destination. It allows both tourist and the local community a chance to experience what each other can offer.
Tourism generated income and livelihood among many villagers. However, all the areas of the community should be observed. Indeed, we can attain economic progress through the tourism industry, but, can we manage to loss something bigger in exchange for smaller success? We must not sacrifice the importance of the importance of the environment and the richness of the culture in return for popularity and money.// Sharmaine P. Chocowen