“Mister!”, he said with a sawdusty sneeze,
“I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees.
I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues,
And I’m asking you, sir, at the top of my lungs” –
He was very upset as he shouted and puffed –
“What’s that THING you’ve made out of my Truffula tuft?” -Dr. Suess
I don’t get it. Why cut pine and Alnus trees to build a parking lot? Are they attempting to remake the Counting Crows “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot” song? And, yet we’re not just paving Baguio. Our mountains and beaches, our rivers and lakes, our tremendous biodiversity and wild creatures, everything that other less-endowed countries would fiercely protect, we have paved to degradation. Pristine beaches, two of the worlds natural wonders, the most biodiversity in the world, even giant creatures casually dropping by our waters, and yet: we pour concrete on mountain trails; paint “Jhun love Mhel” on rocks; make sewage out of rivers; erect makeshift stalls that peddle everything from frog keychains to fake bags; tie up and ride whale sharks; build resorts atop fragile ecosystems; and fashion life-sized statues of Disney and dinosaurs, as if the mountains, the waters and the sharks were not enough. What is wrong with us?
Have you been to Baguio, the city of pines? There’s neither the sight nor the scent of pines but concrete and smog. Where’s the view at Mines View, because all I see is a market and horses with pink hair? What is it about us that we have to turn everything into a market or a circus? Oh, we find it so cute that our kids ride on them, and we take photographs too.
Have you been to Boracay? I was and didn’t swim at all. All three days I spent mourning the demise of old Boracay where the waters were sapphire blue and not overrun by foul-smelling algae with flies. Can you imagine how much leaching to the sea happens from overflowing septic tanks (if there are sewage treatment plants at all!)? There ought to be an outbreak of hepatitis and gastroenteritis, these might drive out the swarm, serve nature well. (If you don’t know: excess sewage that flows directly to the sea stimulates the growth of algae.)
What about all the facilities that make it a luxury vacation? We don’t see it when they destroy mangroves and reefs to make way for roads, a nearby airport, marinas, and your room with the view. Look at SM. 182 felled a.k.a. earth-balled trees to pave the way for a parking lot and an entertainment center. Well, come to think of it, we love malls more than we do the outdoors.
And then there’s the hiking up the mountain to see not one but 2, 3, even 7 waterfalls. But I’m yet to see a mountain resort without graffiti on the rocks. What is it with the “Boy was here!” scribbling? Why show off your dirty crime? And what about packing after your merienda? Our trails are dotted with sardines cans and Chippy wrappers. We once hiked up Mt. Makiling and lost count of the candy wrappers we picked on the trail.
And just as we like to eat, we like to feed animals as well, from adorable tarsiers to the novel hand feeding of gigantic whale sharks. What happens when you tamper with the wild, when you alter feeding patterns, or take them out of their migration routes? Visit Oslob and we now have wildlife nudging boats, begging for food.
And there isn’t anyone watching out for what goes on below either. So much trampling happens underwater. As a country with the most biodiversity in the world (in the world!), we take our multicolored reefs for granted. But I’ve seen many go bonkers over the site of a tiny nudibranch or a Spanish dancer. Can we just stop selling or buying corals and cowrie shells as souvenirs?
Why do we would bite the hand that feeds us? You don’t even have to do the math to understand the economics. Preserve the natural environment and you draw tourists. Having an unspoiled natural wonder increases its value, so it then becomes your largest source of income. Instead of lugging tourists around paved walkways (oh boy, they even carry you in Styrofoam boxes so you don’t get wet!), distracting them with wares or obscuring their views, why not leave it all up to raw, wild, and glorious nature? And because you will have their undivided attention, tell them about the folklore, where places get their names, natural cycles, kingfishers, slates, sea stars and banyan trees. It didn’t take much incitement or prodding for my kids to adore the sea, or dote on the endangered spotted deer, even understand how you can grow worms for birdfeed. All I had to do was bring them there.
Yes there are still a few patches of unspoiled paradise with daring stewards here and there. I enjoyed Coron (7 years ago), Siargao, Siquijor and Isla Naburot, have a high regard for Danjugan Island, the School of the Seas and Siliman University, even admire how organized Donsol is now. I’m pinning my hopes that someday, we can see perfect coned mountains, our sapphire waters, the spotted gentle giants, even our verdant pine trees, for exactly for what they are worth. Until then, tourism will choose creature comforts at nature’s expense, so one day you’re swimming in sludge, captive in a strange paradise of pink horses and domesticated sharks, with a parking lot for a tree.
*Pictures posted here are not mine.