BATANGAS, Philippines – Except for businesses directly affected by Taal Volcano’s eruption that began in mid-January, it’s business as usual for establishments in the province of Batangas and surrounding areas, said Governor Hermilando Mandanas during the Batangas Economic Recovery Round Table (BERRT) held at the Lima Park Hotel in Malvar municipality on Friday, February 7.
The discussion covered the disruption and losses that the volcano’s eruption has brought to the province’s economy, particularly tourism, and how different sectors can contribute to building resilience to disasters.
Mandanas said Batangas’ cities and municipalities have been clustered into two categories based on their eligibility to tourism: the “lakeshore” towns and cities surrounding Taal Lake, and the “bayshore” ones facing Balayan Bay, Batangas Bay, and Tayabas Bay.
“The other part of Batangas facing Balayan Bay and Batangas Bay are generally safe for visitors and tourists. We invite all of you to continue to visit and enjoy the cultural heritage of Batangas and the ‘Fun, Food, Faith Tourism’ it offers,” Mandanas said.
With the Catholic season of Lent coming up, religious tourists can fulfill their Visita Iglesia at the National Shrine of Padre Pio and at old churches in Batangas City and Lipa City. In April, the Senakulo or passion play will be performed at the Montemaria pilgrimage center in Batangas City.
Besides these, there are the province’s beaches, which will be open throughout the summer.
Taal Volcano started erupting on January 12, spewing a 15-kilometer ash column that blanketed surrounding places in ash and rock fragments, forcing more than 300,000 people to flee their homes.
For two weeks afterwards, evacuees from affected parts of Batangas and Cavite provinces waited as state volcanologists raised Alert Level 4 over the volcano, which indicated the threat of a hazardous, explosive eruption.
Several towns were placed on lockdown until the volcano’s activity slightly deescalated, prompting state volcanologists to downgrade to Alert Level 3 on January 26.
Although majority of evacuees have been allowed to return home, some 21,00 remain in evacuation centers. Parts of the towns of Agoncillo, Laurel, Balete, Talisay, and San Nicolas remain on lockdown including Taal Volcano Island, which had been a major tourist attraction.
The national government has, in fact, declared the island completely off limits.
The ordeal has caused P3.4 billion in damage to infrastructure and agriculture in Batangas, Cavite, and Laguna provinces.
“There’s more to Batangas than just the volcano island. Though I have to admit that it is a big blow to our tourism industry, this is also a good opportunity for us to highlight and focus on other areas not limited to our beaches but other popular summer destinations,” said Batangas Vice Governor Marc Leviste.
Although he expects some hesitation among tourists, Leviste, also the chairperson of the provincial government’s tourism committee, said that a proper plan will allow Batangas to compensate for the income it used to earn from tourism on volcano island.
“I’m familiar with the concept of adventure tourism or thrill tourism. When Mayon Volcano was erupting, there were photo hobbyists flocking to Albay and Legazpi City to experience firsthand the eruption of the volcano. Many people do this, from skydiving to zipline, jumping from waterfalls. We just have to develop a plan that can assure the safety and security of the people,” Leviste said.
“Inasmuch as we will take advantage of ‘dark tourism,’ we cannot risk [even] one life,” he added.
Batangas is a popular summer destination because of its proximity to Metro Manila. Aside from the beaches in different parts of the province, the Verde Island Passage off Batangas’ shores is famous among divers as a center of marine biodiversity.
Organized by the First Asia Institute of Technology and Humanities Colleges under its Batangas Development Summit initiative, BERRT is a private-led multi-sectoral initiative aimed at coordinating economic recovery efforts in the wake of the recent volcanic eruption. – Rappler.com