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How SU Paved Way for my Advocacy on Sustainable Tourism

I thought I would end up in the newsroom, reading the news or probably directing it. Twenty years later, I found myself working with the community as a State Tourism and Information Officer in Sagay City, Negros Occidental– of its mangrove forest, sea, and river. And not one bit of the moment I regret venturing into this direction in my career.

During my college days, I was inspired by the story of Apo Island. One of my teachers showed me a video documentary of its marine conservation program, showing that the community were empowered to be co-protectors and managers of the marine reserve. I have always wanted to be part of the transformation of the communities to become resilient and sustainable, and I thank Silliman University for preparing me for the work towards sustainable tourism development. The university also played a monumental role in the early conservation efforts of the 32,000-hectareSagay Marine Reserve through the historic partnership between Dr. Angel Alcala and former Sagay Mayorand the current Negros Occidental governor, Alfredo G. Marañon, Jr. Sagay City is one of the major fishing coastal communities in the province of Negros Occidental, Philippines. People’s wanton abuse of Sagay’s marine environment resulted to massive destruction of coral reefs and other marine habitats in the area. In the late 1970’s, Gov. Marañon and Dr. Alcala initiated action for the conservation and management of the dying coral reef. Early in 1980, a marine sanctuary was established in Carbin Reef, which was proclaimed as a protected area through a municipal ordinance and was extended to Panal, Maca and the fringing reefs of Molocaboc Islands. This protected seascape is where most of our prized destinations can be found.

I never thought I will be part of tourism. I was involved in development communication, but a detour led me to both information and tourism work in the LGU-Sagay. I embraced sustainable tourism as an advocacy after I listened to a lecture of Chen Mencias about the irreversible destruction of mass tourism, like the destruction of coral reefs due to irresponsible diving and snorkeling. She also talked about different opportunities for the community to be part of the wealth generation and of the process of becoming the environment’s protectors.

Since then,this has become our guiding principle in all of our undertakings: “Tourism enriches, protects and helps build communities.”

Suyac Island, a small island community in Sagay that we are currently working on, is a testament that sustainable tourism can work. It can also make a difference to the lives of the marginalized sector. Enterprise development is the basic strategy towards empowering community members to earn supplemental income from the tourist traffic through the sale of life enhancing and compelling experiences.

Our events are also nationally recognized as we remain true to our cause: to transform Suyac Island to become resilient and sustainable through community-based eco-tourism projects. Community-based tourism provides economic incentives for residents of poor rural communities to strengthen the protection of the natural assets which are the capital of ecotourism development. Members of the community-based ecotourism project in Suyac Island, Sagay Marine Reserve are mostly fisher folks who are highly dependent on fishing as the main source of livelihood. Affording them the opportunity to be part of this eco-tourism enterprise gave them an added source of earning. We are raising local champions to be local advocates and community leaders and assisting in waste management, education, disaster-preparedness, environmental education, social marketing pride campaign, among others.

Though it is still a work in progress, we saw the meaningful benefits of putting premium on the people and our planet. When things get rough, I always go back to the core of my Christian education: to always choose the Way, the Truth and the Life. I believe that more than my communication training, it is the Silliman ways that helped me in the launching of communication campaigns in the community.

In Philippians 4:8, it is said that “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Sillimanians, take inspiration from these words from God as we do things for the community.

*The author graduated from Silliman University with a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication in 1995.

The Fish Lover
Helen Arguelles-Cutillar

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