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LIPA ARCHBISHOP RAMON ARGUELLES:

‘Cavite has money but Batangas has beauty’

This ought to comfort beleaguered Gov. Vilma Santos-Recto: “Cavite has the money but Batangas has the beauty.”

The remark was made on Friday by Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles in the course of defending Recto’s much-ridiculed idea of mounting a giant “Batangas” sign on Taal Volcano as a way of claiming it and the lake surrounding it as the province’s own.

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The archbishop came to the defense of Recto, also a multiawarded actress, whose proposal was met with a firestorm of criticism including Internet spoofs that have gone viral.

According to Arguelles, tourists, especially foreigners, are unaware that Taal Volcano is part of Batangas province, and not of the adjoining province of Cavite.

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“Cavite has the money but Batangas has the beauty… We are happy with the beauty and we don’t care about the money,” Arguelles told reporters in a phone interview.

“[But] people don’t know that the beauty is with us, and they think that it is in Cavite… It is also good [for Batangas] to be recognized for that,” he said.

Tagaytay, a second-class city in Cavite, is a short drive from Metro Manila and draws holiday-seekers because of its cool climate, restaurants and bed-and-breakfast inns that offer visitors a stunning view of Taal Volcano and its lake.

Arguelles said he was backing the plan of Recto and the Batangas government to put up a 14-meter sign similar to the iconic “Hollywood” sign in Los Angeles, California, as a means of teaching tourists geography.

“Of course [I support it] so that there will be proper identification—unless somebody writes a book and acknowledges [that Taal Volcano is part of Batangas]. What is happening is that [people think] even Taal Lake is still Tagaytay,” he said. The archbishop said he was certain that those poking fun at Recto’s idea were not from Batangas.

He said the intentions of the Batangas government would not defile the volcano as it merely wanted to establish a landmark.

Didn’t tarnish California

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“They should ask the Batangueños,” Arguelles said, adding:

“Did the Hollywood signage tarnish California? It even became a landmark of California.”

In Batangas City, Vice Gov. Mark Leviste II continued to defend Recto from critics.

Leviste, one of the proponents of the provincial board resolution supporting Recto’s plan to put up the giant sign, said “it is unfair to judge and criticize the governor [on] the issue.”

He said Recto always meant well and would do what was best for Batangas.

The governor was very upset by the nasty comments posted by netizens and readers of INQUIRER.net, according to a source who asked not to be named for lack of authority to speak on the matter.

Leviste stressed that the idea was still under study, and that research and consultations with stakeholders were still to be conducted.

He said nothing was final, not even the layout of the sign that was shown in the photo provided by his office and published by the Inquirer.

He also said the idea was part of a wholistic tourism development plan for Taal Volcano and Lake, which included having floating restaurants in order to promote the area for outdoor adventure.

Hearings

Leviste said the provincial board was preparing to hold hearings on the issue. He called on interested parties to get in touch with him and the other members for questions or suggestions.

He clarified that the provincial board did not want to compete with or challenge the city government of Tagaytay, and that they could instead “complement each other.”

Leviste said the provincial board was “saddened that the idea was magnified and some people overreacted, if not maliciously responded, to the issue, considering that the idea is just in the pipeline.”

He said they had invited various government agencies to attend their first hearing, and broached the idea to social networking sites and members of the media as a way of showing sincerity and seriousness.

“I actually expected to see mixed opinions of the idea, but I hope our kababayan will [be] mature, responsible and objective in their comments,” he said.

But despite the unfavorable comments, Leviste said, they appreciated their critics’ participation and welcomed the insights provided.

“The overwhelming response only shows that Batangas is indeed beautiful and very popular,” he said.

Respectful of procedures

Nilo Tamoria, executive director of the Department of Environment and National Resources in Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon), said on Friday in a statement that Recto had not insisted on the idea of the giant sign and respected the procedures of the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB).

A design was proposed to the board but there was no mention of constructing a “permanent structure” on the volcano island, said Tamoria, who also chairs the Taal Volcano Protected Landscape-PAMB.

He said the Taal Lake Aquaculture Alliance Inc. presented the design during a recent meeting of the PAMB executive committee.

“The design was to use a series of fish cages forming the words ‘Ala eh!’—a distinctive Batangueño expression—on the lake waters near the island which is visible from the Tagaytay ridge,” Tamoria said.

He said the proposal was endorsed to the fishery subcommittee for further study.

Tamoria also said Recto attended the past meeting of the PAMB executive committee and was “ecstatic about the idea since it will give a Batangueño identity to the place.”

‘Threat’ to fishers

But the militant fisherfolk alliance Pamalakaya said the Batangas government’s plan to make Taal Volcano an ecotourism destination would displace at least 20,000 fishermen in the coastal towns surrounding its famed lake.

Pamalakaya spokesperson Gerry Albert Corpuz said the plan would open the coastal towns of Cuenca, Mataas Na Kahoy, Laurel, Tanauan and San Nicolas, and also Tagaytay City, to privatization and conversion.

Corpuz said not less than 20,000 fishing families, including those in fish caging activities, would be affected by the ambitious eco-development project.

Pamalakaya said its chapter in Batangas—the Haligi ng Batangueñong Anakdagat—had been seeking an audience with Recto to convince her on the negative impact of various projects of the national and provincial governments on Taal Lake. With a report from Kristine L. Alave

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TAGS: Batangas, Cavite, Gov.Vilma Santos-Recto, Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, Taal Lake, Taal Volcano, Tagaytay
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