The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (PPSRNP) has suffered a major financial blow from the lockdowns due to COVID-19, with a running deficit of at least P50 million needed to sustain its operations until December 2020.
Park superintendent Elizabeth Maclang said Tuesday in a phone interview that the park has welcomed only 61,458 visitors, roughly translating to a generated income of P20.68 million, during the pre-pandemic period from January to March 15. This was only about 18 percent of the tourist arrivals compared to the over-all 2019 figures of 331,556 guest arrivals that yielded to at least P107.63 million.
“As the pandemic hit the industry globally, the PPSRNP has been heavily affected by having zero tourist arrivals and having only 18 percent of its tourist arrival as compared to the previous years. If we will compare, ang laki ng income na nawala sa atin compared from the arrival in 2019 and until March 15 before the lockdown,” Maclang said.
The unrealized income, considered as loss, threatens the survival of the park operations until 2021, which needed to support at least 224 staffers.
The park is eyeing to reopen some of its attractions by September 18, with the Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR) tour remaining to be suspended.
“We are considering [that] we will [still have] no income for the next year. Since the park is temporarily closed, 81 percent of the community admits to the experienced financial crisis,” Maclang added.
In January 2020, from its previous employment of 328 staffers, the park has already cut down to 224 workers which were caused by the Civil Service Commission (CSC) mandate to increase the salary requirement.
At least P50 million is needed by the park to maintain operational cost until December 2020, based on the park’s financial report. The park officials are eyeing to draw funds from its savings from 2015 to 2019 amounting to at least P110 million.
“P50 million is already cut down from the same projected expenditure of P93 million,” Maclang added.
The park staffers, whom Maclang described as “hardworking frontliners”, are “on the verge of becoming jobless” because of the financial setback caused by the pandemic. The park has not retrenched any of its 224 employees and was instead focused on “defending the forest from violators”, and even assisting medical frontliners with their recent job reassignments.
Defending its stand of keeping its staffers employed, Maclang pointed out that the “quality of life in the community has improved” from at least 90 percent of its community members employed in its ranks.
“If we remove them, they may be a possible threat to the park because they will be unemployed and may venture into kaingin or illegal logging,” Maclang added.
Maclang also assured that the management has enough funds that may last even until 2022, enforcing austerity measures as it muddles through the pandemic financial setbacks.
Based on the 2015 data, the poverty incidence in Cabayugan has decreased by 11.5 percent, 16 percent in barangay Marufinas, and 16.45 in Barangay Tagabinet. This was said to have been effected through the interventions with the help of other partners and the PPSRNP management.
The Puerto Princesa Underground River, a World’s New Seven Wonders of Nature site, closed its doors to tourists amidst the global coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic starting March 15. However, community-based sustainable tourism (CBST) and other activities within the park remains operational.
Forest and seaborn patrol and other facilities underwent maintenance as the park management divert its effort to biodiversity conservation. The park management devoted its activities to restoration, protection, information education campaign (IEC) on the single-use plastic ordinance, and 24/7 conduct of thermal monitoring of people entering the park in Kwago base checkpoint.
PPUR is located 80 kilometers northwest coast of the city proper and is part of the Saint Paul Mountain Range. It was officially confirmed as part of the World’s New Seven Wonders of Nature on January 28, 2012.