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Fees at Mt. Pinatubo crater-lake stir protest

THE CRATER-LAKE of Mt. Pinatubo, formed after the volcano’s eruptions in 1991, continues to attract adventure-seekers who want to see how nature changed Central Luzon’s landscape. EDWIN BACASMAS

THE CRATER-LAKE of Mt. Pinatubo, formed after the volcano’s eruptions in 1991, continues to attract adventure-seekers who want to see how nature changed Central Luzon’s landscape. EDWIN BACASMAS

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO—The Botolan government in Zambales province has started collecting P700 from each tourist trekking to the Mt. Pinatubo crater via Capas town in Tarlac province.

Tour operators serving tourists who visit the world-famous crater-lake said a Botolan council resolution, which imposes the fee, will weaken or kill local tourism.

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“It is the height of summer and it is also the peak of bookings to the Mt. Pinatubo crater. This ordinance will adversely affect bookings, most of which are pre-booked, operations as well as possible income for guides and 4 x 4 vehicle drivers,” said Poch Jorolan, a trek operator, in an e-mailed statement last week.

The resolution was approved in a special session of the Botolan council on March 18. It requires tourists to pay a P100-eco-tourism fee, a P350-environmental protection fee and a P250-ancestral domain preservation fee. It sets a fine of P2,000 for trekkers who refuse to pay these fees.

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Tourists entering Barangay Santa Juliana in Capas pay a separate P450-fee, from where P100 is reserved for Aetas of Zambales and P50 for Aetas of Tarlac.

 Treks

Guided treks by Aetas have been lucrative enterprises since these began in 1998.

Botolan Mayor Doris Maniquiz-Jeresano said her town was asserting its rights, adding the Mt. Pinatubo crater was within the jurisdiction of Botolan.

“Everyone knows that Mt. Pinatubo is part of Botolan. It’s our municipality that must generate income from it,” she told the Inquirer by telephone.

Faced with protests following a dry run on March 22, Jeresano had suspended the collection of the P700 until March 31, according to Jorolan.

Another resolution, which was approved in a special session of the Botolan council on March 18, authorizes Jeresano to enter into a memorandum of agreement with the Aeta villages of Villar Moraza, Burgos and Belbel and Mt. Pinatubo Ancestral Domain Association (MPADA) for a joint management agreement (JMA) of the Mt. Pinatubo ancestral domain.

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But many believe the resolutions may not be enforceable because the setting of fees, as well as the formalization of a JMA, must be covered by an ordinance.

“As a tourism stakeholder, I find this ordinance and such collection midway along the trail as illegal as it was allegedly passed without public hearing and consultations. It was implemented allegedly without the approval of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Zambales. And this is in total disregard of the rights of the Aetas who are the owners of the ancestral domain,” Jorolan said.

Chito Balintay, MPADA head, said more community consultations were needed. He went to the Central Luzon office of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) here to seek help in resolving the issue.

“We want more reasonable fees. We don’t want to scare away tourists. We want maximum benefits for our members,” Balintay said.

Consultation

No public consultation was held before the fees were imposed, according to Carlito Domulot, one of the leaders of  Lubos na Alyansa ng mga Katutubong Ayta.

“I hope this issue won’t divide us. I hope our customary laws would prevail,” Domulot said.

The volcano and the bean-shaped, 3-kilometer-wide crater-lake are part of the Aeta domain, according to a certificate of ancestral domain title issued by the NCIP in November 2009. The area spans 15,998 hectares in four Botolan villages and portions of Cabangan, San Felipe and San Marcelino towns, all in Zambales.

Capas Mayor Antonio Rodriguez has invited Jeresano to a dialogue to reach a win-win solution. “We are willing to collect the fees for them—sort of running a one-stop shop so as not to inconvenience tourists,” he said.

 Tourism income

Jeresano said she had to make a “drastic move,” claiming that Rodriguez had been ignoring since 2014 her requests to allow Botolan generate income from the tourism activities in the crater.

“We will provide official receipts for all of these fees. The officials of Capas don’t have to approve that because the crater is our territory,” she said.

Jorolan said the Botolan local government should train guides and drivers before they are deployed.

“Botolan wants the business but it does not have safe and easy access for tourists. Because from Pampanga, tourists will have to travel an extra two hours to reach the town,” he said.

“If this will not be resolved, I would rather have the trekking suspended indefinitely than give in to the additional fees and demands of Botolan,” he said.

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TAGS: Aetas, Botolan government, Capas town, Mt. Pinatubo, Mt. Pinatubo crater, Poch Jorolan, Tarlac province, Zambales province
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