In North tourism sites, bets obstruct view
BANAUE, Ifugao—The road to this tourist town is littered with posters held by sticks standing on street sides.
Once tourists start that long steep descent to the Batad rice terraces, the same posters greet them hung between trees or plastered on rest stops or on alang (rest huts). The names of some candidates had been painted in red or yellow on mountainsides and boulders.
Villagers have complained to the Commission on Elections (Comelec), said Romeo Heppog, Batad village chief, but the poll body did not have the manpower to inspect all of the terrace areas in the province due to poor roads leading to the uplands.
“Our visitors have noticed the posters and we have apologized to those who opened up to us,” Heppog said.
He said a bigger task facing them is cleaning these tourist areas after the elections.
On Sunday, groups of American and French tourists made the two-hour descent to the terraces by first negotiating more than 400 narrow steps made of slippery rocks, and then hiking further on mud paths. These campaign posters were put up along that route.
One of the posters showed a candidate flashing a thumbs-up sign, which a group of tourists mistook to mean a gesture of support for having traversed the meandering route that far.
The visitors also navigated through houses along mountainsides to reach the village viewpoint. Many of those houses were also plastered with posters.
An old bale (hut) displayed at least 10 posters on its walls. Its owner, Apo Imay, 80, said she allowed campaigners to put up their posters in exchange for tobacco and matches.
In some cases, the posters were put up without the owners’ approval, said Heppog.
One of Imay’s neighbors said candidates have not followed campaign rules in their area.
“We have tried to remove the posters before. On April 17, Comelec officials in the Cordillera took down illegal posters and campaign materials simultaneously in all Cordillera provinces,” said lawyer Jose Nick Mendros, Comelec Cordillera director.
But the poll body’s Ifugao office has been busy preparing for the May 13 elections, he said, so Comelec would be writing the candidates to warn them of the legal consequences of littering the tourist routes with posters.
Tourism remains the economic lifeblood of the province, which remains to be one of the 10 poorest provinces in the country, according to the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB).
Ifugao hosted 93,037 foreign tourists in 2006, which grew to a peak of 110,660 foreign visitors in 2008, an NSCB chart showed. In 2011, Ifugao hosted 87,401 foreign tourists. Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon