An official at the Iwahig penal facility in Puerto Princesa City disclosed this week they are presently in the midst of negotiations with two private entities to reopen the popular firefly watching tour along the banks of the Iwahig river that is part of their reservation, which they had ordered closed back in March this year.
Such pronouncement is a clear indication on what prompted prison authorities to unilaterally terminate an agreement they previously had with a group of local residents, the Iwahig Community Eco-Tourism Multi-Purpose Cooperative (ICEMCO) to operate the firefly tour.
According to published stories, the Bureau of Corrections issued ICEMCO a cease-and-desist order on March 26, claiming that the latter had violated certain provisions of their agreement. However, ICEMCO also claimed they were not told exactly what they had violated.
Other reports had quoted City tourism officer Aileen Amurao stating that BUCOR was demanding that ICEMCO pay some P2.4 million to the correctional facility, for reasons that are not clear, and renegotiate their continued operation.
The closure of the firefly watching attraction has led to the termination of some 60 local jobs and the disruption of one of the more successful “community-based sustainable tourism” (CBST) projects in the city.
CBST is a tourism practice that has been embraced by the city government as an inclusive approach to tourism development. Through CBSTs, local communities are able to directly participate in the management of the natural resources around them and benefit in the process.
Apart from the firefly watching tour which until its closure was one of the emerging popular destinations in the city, similar projects are in place in Honda Bay and around the Underground River national park.
The firefly watching tour project began as a joint undertaking of the city government and the ABS-CBN Foundation as a demonstration of how local communities can be economically productive in utilizing natural resources for sustainable tourism practices.
BuCor undermined ICEMCO, clearly so it can have for itself the cash flow already being generated by the popular attraction. While this motivation for profit is not necessarily illegal, it reeks of greed and creates for the agency a bad reputation and image.
Having a private company take over the profitable firefly watching tour on the Iwahig River is a daylight robbery of an intellectual property owned by ICEMCO. Perhaps the least BuCor should do is to compensate them properly for that.