My blog title may be misleading but two days ago, my Facebook news feed had some really interesting things going on. It started with a blog that appeared on Tramping Philippines:

Nasa Calaguas Parin Ba Ako? had a video of the Calaguas we knew and the Calaguas that the traveler and concerned citizen found on that Saturday night in the beach of Mahabang Buhangin (Long Beach).

The Calaguas is a group of islands in the Philippine province of Camarines Norte. It includes the islands of Tinaga, Guintinua and Maculabo and several other minor islands.

Most of the islands are under the administrative jurisdiction of Vinzons, Camarines Norte while the minor island of Maculabo is under the jurisdiction of the municipality of Paracale, Camarines Norte. The island of Tinaga where the famous long beach called Mahabang Buhangin is located is experiencing influx of tourists in the area despite the absence of accommodation. Campers and backpackers are coming and going daily to experience its powdery white sands. (Source: Wiki)

I have been to Calaguas myself and blogged about it here and here. I can understand the sentiment and know exactly what is going on. Unlike my friends, I opted not to say anything about the issue. Two days later though, I found myself being plagued by it because of the number of posts appearing on my Facebook feed. It turns out, except for concerned citizen on Tramping Philippines and the person who wrote on the Calaguas Island Facebook page, I knew all the people involved here. Now I think would be a good time to share what I know and what I think. I am sorry for all those who will be affected by this.

I know well enough the power of social media – and information. Because I have access to information, I feel compelled to use it, to whatever purpose I may deem fit. Since the Facebook page is public, I am assuming that I can post some screenshots here.

I cannot fault Joel Aldor for having done what he did. It was indeed a bold move. Even if a wrong one. I cannot fault Melvic Brinas, the page owner, if he felt compelled to defend himself, his group and/or his company. But looking at all these, there is just something wrong in this whole scene.

One, Mr. Aldor could’ve sent Mr. Brinas a private message, if he wanted an explanation. But seeing that Mr. Aldor wanted it all for the public to see, Mr. Brinas issues then a public reply. A badly done one at that. They all know each other and could’ve easily communicated with each other problems such as these and saved themselves the trouble of pointing fingers, “It was this other group! It was the LGU (local government unit)!” A “Thank you for your concern. I’m sorry about all this. It was not my group but rest assured we have channeled this issue to the right people and we will do what we can. We love the beach/island as much as you do,” or something to that effect, would have sufficed.

Mr. Brinas gave a clue that I was not familiar with; but I saw a friend of mine post photos of Calaguas that were taken on that night and went to look at the album.

Yes, there was a mobile bar. It had a product that is actively being promoted by its owner and developer, Mr. Cabalquinto of Calaguas Northwine, a friend of mine. Yes, there was live music, courtesy of Wowie and Jojo of Tanikala Tribe, a band that regularly performed at Wharf Galley and the two are friends of mine. Because there was live music that needed a microphone and a speaker, yes, there was a generator in the island on that night. And because I did not know what tour operator organized this event, I googled the number on the tarp – a detail that Mr. Brinas pointed out with, “it’s not my genset nor my signage.” and there it was.

Mr. Brinas was referring to Northlink Travels/Tours, the owner/operator of which I personally know. We are also friends, to some extent, just as Melvic and I are. A friend from Travel Factor also happened to be on the island that night and he wasn’t happy either about what happened or is happening.

Why am I naming names, which seems to me not very unlike what Mr. Aldor did, when he said he had connections. These are people I personally know.

Truth is, the issue here is not who did what but the fact that there is something wrong in how all these are being handled by everyone here concerned. Yes, we want to promote the island and boost tourism.

I am well aware of the fact that Cam. Norte is trying hard enough to catch up with its neighbor Cam. Sur, which in turn is not bereft of tourism-related issues coupled with politics and the associated corruption and abuse of power. The whole of Bicol is trying its best to boost tourism, in line with DOT’s drive and its “It’s more fun in the Philippines campaign.” Is it not true that my friends are organizing the week-long Butanding Festival in Sorsogon, the 5th Bagasbas Surf Festival happened just last weekend and the month-long Magayon Festival is still ongoing? I myself actively promote these events. Also, just this afternoon, as I sat in a coffee shop with my frapp and a copy of Cebu Pacific‘s SMILE magazine, I saw three whole-page advertisements for Iriga City, Daet and Sorsogon.

We want to let people know that we have an astounding number of beautiful beaches and islands. We loved that CNN Go just came out with the article, The Philippines’ Best Beaches and Islands. Someone said they forgot to include Calaguas in the list that had El Nido, Boracay, Palaui and Panglao to name the top 4. Melvic once told me he wanted to let people know of Calaguas just as much as people know of Boracay.

A question here is, “Do we really want to turn Calaguas into another Boracay?”

Most of the people I know would say, “No.” Mahabang Buhangin is appreciated for its absence of accommodations, night life, and other so-called comforts.

Another question here is, “What does the government of Camarines Norte really want to do?”

Do they really want to develop the beach into something like Boracay? What of Bagasbas? It is a beach that I love going to to surf and hang out when I am in dire need of a view of sea, the spray of salt water, the sound of crashing waves, and the smell of the salt of the sea in the air, despite my disappointment with tricycle drivers and their tendency to abuse tourists, white-skinned or not, and the overpricing of available accommodations if not the shortage of good ones.

I was supposed to go to the Bagasbas Surf Festival. I almost always go every year, from the first ever to this year’s. I am always paid in advance for it. But when I learned that the new festival schedule (the original schedule of April 13-15 was moved to 28-29 because of the supposed NoKor rocket launch) coincided with the local fiesta, I opted not to go. A wise decision when I was informed a riot had broken out on the beach Friday night.

If we are to promote and boost tourism in this country, we need to educate the locals. What is the sense in bringing people to your place, if they will only be turned off by their experiences, and vow not to come again? We need to educate the tour operators, to take care of the environment, to preserve it as well as preserve themselves, locals of the very place they promote. Not to turn against each other and point fingers when confronted by real problems.

I have seen what tourism can do to a place. Some people say when going to a particular place is hard, it helps preserve the place, but I have personally found this to be untrue. When I was living in El Nido in 2005, we swam in the beach in front of town nearly everyday. Some days there were even tourists sunbathing. The beach was white and beautiful then; but it was even more beautiful in the photos of El Nido I saw that were taken in the 1980s. Incomparable. When I was back there in 2010, only five years later, the sand on the beach was almost brown. You would not want to lay there and sunbathe either. I have enough knowledge of the state of the environment and tourism in El Nido to say that truly, things are never what they seem.

Everywhere, people and places are paying the price of tourism. It is a sad affair and we aren’t even halfway there. While we are addressing issues on how to get more people to come to our shores, such topics discussed in the article, “Special report: Philippines tourism, a tough sell?“, we fail to address the fact that maybe our own people – the local government, with the mayors, baranggay captains, councilors, the tourism council, business owners, tour operators, transport operators, yes, even the local tambays, are not prepared. If that be true, then the P63M the Aquino administration plans to spend on CNN ads would be better off, again, set aside for awareness and education, rather than promotion.