EL NIDO, Palawan — Local tourism stakeholders are pushing for the designation of this town’s popular Ille Cave as a tourist destination.
Currently classified by the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) as a Class I cave that may only be used for educational and scientific activities, the cave complex is nevertheless emerging to be a popular attraction to regular tourists.
“Dati, ang mga pumupunta ay kakaunti lang, mga walk-in guests na naka-motor. Ngayon, dahil sumisikat na nga, maraming pumupunta by van, dinadala ng mga travel and tour operators,” said Arvin Acosta, municipal tourism officer of El Nido.
Acosta, however, said their office has stopped promoting the cave to tourists following its classification by the PCSD, but acknowledged that the area should be formally opened.
“Ang MTO (Municipal Tourism Office) active dati magpromote ng Ille Cave bilang tourist attraction, pero ngayon ay hindi na muna dahil nga sa assessment ng PCSD,” Acosta
Dominador Gilliang Jr., head of the Dewil Valley Ecotourism Association (DVEA), said they are seeking the reclassification of the cave to allow for tourism activities at the site.
“Maraming beses na kaming pumunta sa barangay, nag-meeting, nagbigay ng mga proposals para sa museum at sa cave. Ito ay para ma-reclassify na ang Ille Cave na fit for tourism activity,” Gilliang said.,
Gilliang’s group is composed of Dewil locals who serve as tour guides, maintenance crew, and all-around caretakers of the museum and the cave complex.
“Nais talaga namin na ma-reclassify kami para rin maka-conduct na kami ng guided tours at hike, na may mga tamang fees na kinokolekta sa mga bisita,” he added.
In the meantime, tour guide fees are given in the form of donations. Guides are typically assigned to three or four visitors, but during the peak season, visitors can reach up to 20 persons per group who can all enter the cave together. To avoid crowding, the tour guides came up with a rerouting scheme to ensure the safety of the visitors.
The DVEA has collaborated with the barangay officials of New Ibajay to process the reclassification, as well as with their private sector beneficiary, the Pilipinas Shell Foundation. One of the requirements of the PCSD is the provision of small sets of stairs for the interior of the cave, wherein there are areas that cannot be climbed without additional support.
“Nagawa na po namin ang part namin para mapabilis ang reclassification. Pero nire-require kami ng PCSD na merong mga hagdanan. Meron naman po kaming mga temporary na hagdanan, ngunit gusto sana naming na bakal ang ipalit dito para mas matibay.” Gilliang added.
He said that the funding needed to build the stairs is still yet to be released by the El Nido local government unit (LGU), thus prolonging the process for reclassification.
The PCSD supports and recommends the reclassification of Ille Cave as part of the planned Dewil Valley Heritage Park, a protected area that will be open to tourism activity.
“Sinabi na po sa amin ni Dr. Victor Paz ng UP Archaeological Studies Program na kailangan talagang i-open to tourism ang Ille Cave para magkaroon ito ng silbi at kabuluhan,” said Jovic Fabello, PCSDS forester. Fabello was also in charge of the team that did the assessments on the cave complex.
“Inaantay na lang ng PCSD and endorsement ng barangay (New Ibajay) para ma-reclassify ang Ille Cave at makakolekta na ang mga tour guides ng mga fees para sa mga guided tours at hikes. Pagkatapos nito, dito na po papasok ang paggawa ng memorandum of agreement (MOA) para ma-formalize kung ano ang mga dos and don’ts sa loob ng kuweba, at kung paano ang income generation ng mga stakeholders involved,” Fabello added.