The community association that operates the Olangoan Falls in Barangay Binduyan, Puerto Princesa City, is appealing to the Bayanihan spirit of the people to assist in the restoration of the structures and facilities destroyed by Typhoon Odette so that tour operations can resume in July this year.
Gemma Moreno, president of the Binduyan Community Tourism Association (BCTA), said on Monday that Odette destroyed their hanging bridges, cottages, and information office in December 2021.
She stated that the management does not have a budget to support the reconstruction of necessary guest facilities in the community-based sustainable tourism (CBST) site.
After the landslide, Olongoan Falls became inaccessible due to the lack of an alternate route to the trail and the presence of large rocks in the river path. Guests must walk for over an hour to reach the falls, a significant increase from the previous 30-minute hike.
“Dati kasi meron talagang hanging bridge na dinadaanan talaga, ‘yong dalawang hanging bridge ay inanod ng bagyong Odette– ngayon babalik kami sa number one. Bago pa lang kami mag-start uli na magpagawa diyan, lagyan ng cottage. Wala naman kasi kaming pondo, ang kaya lang namin ay bayanihan,” she said.
“Lumawak siya (ang ilog), ngayon talagang parang makikita mo na ang mga batong malalapad. Dati wala ‘yon, parang inanod ang mga buhangin mula sa aplaya,” Moreno added.
Due to the challenge of accessing the site, she said it might affect the number of visitors who wish to see the falls. However, the management intends to improve the path by installing temporary ropes in lieu of hanging bridges.
As a CBST site set up in 2016, the Olangoan Falls excursions contributed to the local economy. According to the estimate provided by the City Tourism Office (CTO), the rehabilitation of the falls could take five years to happen.
“Kami-kami lang, wala rin kaming budget– kaya matatagalan. Naghahanap din kami ng NGO na makatulong sa amin. Kailangan talaga malagyan siya ng tawiran, tulay para ‘di mahirapan ang guests sa pagtawid-tawid sa bato,” she said.
“Bayanihan muna ang magagawa namin sa ngayon. Kung makita talaga ng city tourism o city na may maitutulong silang muli sa amin, siguro madali lang pero kung walang tutulong talaga sa amin, paunti-unti lang siguro ang gagawin namin diyan hanggang sa ma-improve siya– Siguro itong July, bago pa kami mag-launching sabi ng city tourism,” she added.
Moreno claimed that the CTO has not yet allocated funds to facilitate their rehabilitation. The CBST management site is also exploring non-governmental organizations that may provide financial assistance.
The number of visitors has not yet increased following the typhoon, which is also a matter of concern for the CBST management in terms of promoting the site.
Moreno is aware that other sites have started to regain visitors. Olangoan Falls, on the other hand, is falling behind.
“Malaki talaga ang tulong sa amin ng CBST lalo na noon kapag may guests kami na foreigner, nakikita nila sa Facebook. Kinabubuhay talaga ito ng community lalo na karamihan sa amin na mga babae, nakakatulong din siya sa mga pamilya. Sa ngayon, wala kaming income diyan — sa pag-open namin ngayon, di rin namin sure kung Olangoan ang pupuntahan nila kasi marami na rin falls na naglilitawan ngayon,” she added.
The CBST relies solely on donations for trail guides, she said but will soon begin collecting entrance fees and a fixed rate for them once it is fully operational in July.
Moreno noted that despite the damage caused by Odette, they remain optimistic, with many believing that tours will be improved to aid in their recovery.
Joery Porcel, Jr, a part-time trail guide, said donations from local guests are helpful to meet some of their daily needs.
“Kapag emergency na walang mag-guide, sumasama ako. Nakakatulong din lalo na kapag walang trabaho. Ngayon madalang na (ang bisita), dalawang beses sa isang araw. Minsan wala kapag malakas ang agos, walang madaanan [dahil sa epekto ng bagyo], bumabaha sa bundok — malaking epekto sa pagbisita ng mga turista,” he said.