Friday, March 10, 2006

The DOT in Mt. Pinatubo

Before one can climb Mt. Pinatubo via Capas, Tarlac, one must pass by the Department of Tourism (DOT)-Region 3 office in Brgy. Sta. Juliana, Capas. This is about 22 kms. from the highway and from the Capas municipal hall; about a kilometer of this 22 kms. route is not paved and dusty.

At the DOT Sta. Juliana station, there are a number of rules:
1) Register and pay entrance fee of P50/head.
2) You must get a guide -- even if you've been to the volcano a few times and you know the route already. There should be 1 guide per 10 people; guide fee is P500 per day. All guides are Aetas.
3) Get 4x4 jeep (wrangler type); regular ones can carry up to 5 passengers; longer ones can carry up to 8 people. Jeep rates are P2,500, back and forth.

My observations during our climb last February this year are as follows:

a) The DOT practically has zero service for the P50 it collects from each climber, and there are climbers everyday; could reach dozens of climbers on weekends. No signs for direction, no new viewing deck. There is an old viewing deck that was built about 5 years ago, the wooden stairs are already rotten and damaged. There's a waiting shed near the viewing deck that was constructed around the same time as the deck.

b) The DOT also collects P200 per jeepney trip, we were told by the driver of the jeep that we took. Since drivers and/or operators simply pass on the DOT fee to the passengers, so it's us climbers who again paid for DOT jeepney fee. We were 5 in a jeep, that's P40 each. P50 entrance fee + P40 jeepney fee = P90/head that went to the DOT, for almost zero services given!

Me thinks the DOT is sort of a parasite that just capitalizes on the beauty of Mt. Pinatubo's crater lake. The DOT did not create that lake, does not provide road signs to climbers once the trek begins, does not clear some pathways of tall cogons, wild grasses and vines. Neither does the DOT create new structures for the viewing pleasure of the paying hikers. The money collected (in our case, we paid around P90 each, directly and indirectly), without receipt, probably just goes to paying the allowances of DOT and LGU bigwigs and salaries of extra and unnecessary employees.

Also, requiring climbers to get a guide even if some of the climbers already know the route is making the trip more expensive and more unaffordable to some people. Sure some Aeta villagers are the direct beneficiaries of this policy since they are the only accredited guides. But some poor people who also want to see Pinatubo's natural beauty and don't have enough cash for the various expenses (entrance fee, guide fee, jeep fee with DOT P 200 share) will be deprived of this experience because of the multiple fees required by the DOT.

Hence, DOT may be promoting eco-tourism of Mt. Pinatubo, but it is also acting like a parasite that just collects multiple fees with no corresponding services to the paying public.

Some reform suggestions for the DOT:

1) Stop collecting P50 entrance fee if it does not intend to introduce any new developments. It can continue collecting the P50 entrance fee so long as will also provide useful services like route signs and directions, so that for people who do not have enough cash to pay for a guide, they will not get lost.

2) Remove or reduce the agency share in 4x4 jeep rental; encourage competition among jeep operators to help bring down the rental cost, to make the volcano more accessible to more people.

3) Encourage multiple services and segmented rates among guides. For instance, some guides who can speak basic and elementary foreign languages (for American, European, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, other foreigners) can charge various rates. A single, flat rate does not encourage innovation. Why would a guide bother to learn some Korean or Japanese conversational sentences if the rate for guides is flat and the same?

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