For the family’s 2011 summer holiday, we traveled south of Manila to the Bicol region to experience the adventure-filled destinations that Bicol is now known for. On top of our list was Donsol town, in Sorsogon, the southernmost province of the region known for the butanding or whale sharks, the biggest fish in our seas.
The small town runs a pretty well-organized tourism center. Boats take guests around the cove for a swim with the large beautiful water creature, accompanied by trained guides and boatmen. There are also bancas that go on a cruise along the river at night time, stopping by nipa fronds and talisay trees ablaze with fireflies.
We had stayed with the friendly Aguiluz couple, who owned a house on the main road. Homestays have become common here. They absorb the spillover of tourists who could not be accommodated in the beach resorts located a few minutes’ drive farther, across the bridge on a strip of land in between the sea and the river. Our extended family with ages ranging from 3 months to 50-plus years, shared the upper part of the house with two young European couples.
While we enjoyed our tours in Donsol, we were disgusted by the filth we saw around town. Garbage littered the mangroves and the streets of the town center.
We arrived after lunch after a brief stopover for the zipline on Lingnon Hill and lunch in Legaspi, Albay. With nothing to do before the evening firefly tour and the next day’s swim with the butanding, we took a walk around the town. At the town plaza, a basketball tournament was in progress. We continued our walk down to the market and across the mangroves to the shoreline, all the time dodging dog shit and what-not strewn carelessly by passers-by.
At low tide, the wide shoreline revealed how much barrio life has been invaded by sachets of shampoo, small packets of junk food, candy wrappers, straws for sipping softdrinks, and the ubiquitous cheap plastic bags.
The last stop in our eight-day trip was Bagasbas, in Daet, Camarines Norte. The strong waves and gusty winds on this strip of land along the Pacific coast have put Bagasbas on the map of surfers and kiteboarders. To many locals, Bagasbas has always been the place for a good splash on the white foamy waters of the Pacific. Families with visiting relatives come here in droves. In the past they stayed briefly, leaving when the sun gets too hot, or as evening falls.
Nowadays, many stay at the resorts or camp out in tents. The more adventurous take surfing or kiteboarding lessons. I was amazed to see how this once lowly strip of shore has grown to become a popular destination. One upper-end resort called the Bagasbas Lighthouse changed the scene and raised the standard of enjoyment for middle and upper-class families. But for most parts, the strip is dominated by small carinderias and lodging places populated by humans, dogs and goats.
Again, to our disgust, we saw how carelessly people dealt with their waste. A big family held a picnic, and their remains were scattered all over: paper plates, tiny plastic cups, corn cobs, junk food packaging, empty liquor bottles. No difference whether they were rich or poor, tourist or resident, old or young. They were all littering guiltlessly.
In the early morning, we even witnessed a local resident digging just off the road, along the shoreline, what turned out to be a sandy grave for his dead dog! He buried the animal right there on the shore where people strolled, ate, swam, laughed and slept, unaware of a corpse rotting in the heat of the sun, its juices mingling with human sweat and the waters of the ocean. Thank God the ocean is in constant motion and renewal.
New cleanliness norm
How irresponsibly most people treat their surroundings. People generally keep their yards and homes clean. But they do not care for those open public spaces, even as they appropriate these for personal use and enjoyment.
We still have a long way to go in building a new public cleanliness norm. I, too, thought cleanliness campaigns were mababaw, as there were many other more important issues. I remember how our high school principal, Dr. Cleofe Bacungan, at one time held me by the hand to complain and show the litter in school. I didn’t take her concern seriously. It was only when I reached her age at that time that I realized how right she was.
Through education, ordinances and enforcement, local governments, can help stop this uncivic and uncivil habit of people throwing basura everywhere. Some towns and cities in Palawan, Bohol. and Zambales have shown that this very basic norm-shift can be done.
In El Nido, Palawan, barangay tanods are deputized to issue tickets to litterbugs. As incentive, they get a share of the fees, while the net collection from the penalties finances the cleanliness program.
Bicol already enjoys high visibility in the tourism map. It should follow the lead. The cleanliness dividends are evident: more local and foreign tourists, good reviews, more income, and better sanitation for all.