Palawan News, 4 days ago, carried photos depicting the currents of El Nido along the town’s beachfront at the onset of Holy Week. As of this writing, the said post had already gathered 3.4k emojis, 391 comments, and 944 shares. By quick estimation, this engagement is rather viral or could be considered “most talked about” in the local scene at least. This reflects the image that is projected of what Palawan is and what Palawan has — tourism. But then again, it is just an image, a perception of many. There is so much more that our dear Palawan has to offer and so much more yet to talk about concerning the province, both positively and negatively speaking.

Be that as it may, tourism is the name of the game for the time being.

St. Pope John Paul II has this to say: “Tourism has to help build a sense of community. It should also contribute to the elimination of poverty and foster a sense of responsibility for the environment. Tourism must not be exclusive to the rich, and it should never be a time of depravity, promiscuity, and, consequently, the degradation of people. Tourism should become an opportunity for all people to discover their contemplative dimension, giving them a chance to see God in nature and other people.” On this barometer, coming from a philosopher-pope, how does the Palawan brand of tourism fare?

Let’s admit that, up until now, our sole capital in the tourism industry has been nature. We are devoid of what other places are offering—majestic towers, scholarly museums, historical shrines, and theme parks, among others. We could not even boast yet of something as characteristically gastronomic as something truly Palaweño. On the contrary, our food feast also comes from the bounty of nature. In other words, our claim as the “world’s best island” is God-given. I wonder if we have truly been giving serious thought and making a collective gesture of thanks to those who deserve it. It could well be a profound cause to be festive about. As mentioned above, tourism should encourage us to become contemplative by seeing God in nature.

Nevertheless, the least we can do as individuals is to take complete responsibility for the environment. From the comments on the said posts, not a few are already howling in protest. The picture says it all—it is crowded. Talk about the carrying capacity of the place. If nature indeed has her own life, then El Nido could already be said to be burdened, if not overburdened. To be more precise, it was overbooked. I can imagine the waiting time those tourists in the picture had before taking a ride for island hopping. And while waiting, how come swimming on that side of the beach is not offered in the bargain? In a not-so-distant past, when we were still seminarians, that shoreline was such a pristine playground that we frolicked walking, running, and swimming. Talk about what sustainability is and what it is not.

Conspicuously, tourism is obviously at its peak during Holy Week. Other than environmental, another challenging aspect of tourism is religio-cultural, or shall we say spiritual? The way things are right now, can tourism now have the potential to make Holy Week unholy? If being holy is about participating in and practicing those age-old traditions of Catholicism, then that would certainly be sooner rather than later. Friday night partying will make it difficult to observe the Good Friday fast. The overnight Saturday vigil will be up against the lights and sounds of bars and restos around that will close up until the wee hours the next day. And will Visita Iglesia become Visita Isla instead (island-hopping, that is)?

On the foregoing, Bishop Broderick Pabillo, the prelate of the northern part of Palawan, where tourism activities have really found a hub, issued a Pastoral Letter bearing the title “Pinakamahalagang Tatlong Araw sa Simbahan.” He said, “Huwag po natin sirain ang kabanalan ngmga araw na ito sa paggagawa ng makamundo at masasamang gawain… Ito ay hindi para makapagbakasyon tayo o pumunta tayo sa beach upang mag-enjoy. Hindi angkop na habana ang Panginoong Jesus ay nagpapakasakit at namatay para sa atin, tayo ay nasa beach o nagbabakasyon. Hindi tayo niyan pagpapalain ng Diyos…” For his part, though, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan (Pangasinan) has this: “Can we go to the beach during Holy Week? If it will help you love like Jesus, yes, you can. But if it will distract you from the story of His love, please don’t.” All said, where and how do we strike the balance between the world that enjoys natural beauty and the world that is cultured in religious traditions?

Meanwhile, over here in our parish last Sunday, before the so-called commemoration of the Triumphal Entry to Jerusalem, we had first the Way of the Cross, which started in Tagkawayan and ended up in Napsan. While it was the Way of the Cross, the path that we trod upon was, to say the least, very scenic and calming. On our right side was the beautiful blue ocean of the West Philippine Sea, while on our left were the luscious mountain ranges. For now, I would dare say that we are still having and enjoying the best of both worlds—that of natural beauty and the richness of religiosity. But how long will we be able to sustain this? May sustainability and balance be upon us then.

The bone of contention has always been about money. One netizen commented, “I hope it helps the locals financially.” It must. In truth, the locals must be given priority and would have the biggest chunk of the economic pie. But then again, there is more to tourism than just doing business. In fact, “when limited to the financial dimension, tourism causes a serious disturbance of the global equilibrium. The values of tourism are much greater than pecuniary profits… tourism enriches humanity through contacts between different civilizations, which unveil before one another their cultural, historic, natural, aesthetic, human, and spiritual treasures.” (St. Pope John Paul II)

May we all have a meaningful and fruitful Holy Week.