Sustainability Starts with Empowerment of Every Person, Siargao Local Leaders Say

Every one of us is a steward of the environment, and the key to preserving our surroundings and to ensuring a sustainable future lies with the people’s empowerment and active participation.

This is what local leaders of the island province of Siargao said at the recently held KomunidadXchange chat entitled “Building Resilience and Tourism through Early Warnings.”

Siargao island was gaining global recognition as one of the most famous island provinces for tourism, when Super Typhoon Odette struck the locality in December 2021. Although devastated, the province’s recovery has not been slow, with the outpouring of help from the local government and support from different groups.

Del Carmen, Surigao del Norte Mayor Alfredo Matugas Coro II shared that this was also due in part to preparations that the residents and LGUs have been doing. “The planning for resiliency doesn’t start and end with Odette. It started way back,” he said.

A crucial part of this was making people understand the importance of their surroundings. For their municipality, it is how the mangrove ecosystem can help them.

He recalled that there used to be rampant illegal cutting in their area. Banking on science, the people of Del Carmen understood what is there to protect in their community and how they benefit from these natural assets.

“All of those difficult problems to handle, primarily because we realized that people didn’t understand the power of what they had, like how do you capitalize on these wonderful natural assets to transform your community, your family and even yourself to be able to use these assets to your advantage and at the same time, protect it and sustain it so it can become a continuing process,” he said.

When people understand why they are protecting these, the government can finally get on to policies that are beneficial to the community. This is also when communicating to the public comes in, Coro shared.

Tourism strategy with the community as basis

One of the policies that the government has been pushing is community-based tourism, Jolly Joyce Tibay, a provincial tourism officer of Surigal del Norte, also said.

Tibay, also a panelist, said sustainability “can only happen if we anchor” it on community-based tourism, which is essentially, local communities taking charge in tourism development in their areas.

“It is part of [a] community-based tourism approach, the dynamics of each member—especially a key factor in success—is active participation of every member in the decision-making process. To resilience, once a person is already empowered it is no longer difficult to communicate to them what to do and what not to do because they have knowledge,” Tibay said.

The shift to community-based tourism has also helped tour guides and organizers become better stewards of the environment, and in turn, of Siargao’s development.

Daniel Adrian Camingue, president of Siargao Island Tour Guides and Organizers Association (SITGOA), said: “By empowering the community… to be involved with the decision making of tourism development and management process of LGU, on how they develop the area, [they] also help the community engage with tourists and share their culture and tradition.”

“If we encourage our front liners to educate our tourists, to learn our local culture and tradition, we could maintain the unique identity of our island and preserve the historical and cultural knowledge,” Camingue said.

SITGOA is also involved in pushing advocacies for the promotion of Siargao’s local culture and proposing ordinances for tourism activities such as regulation of island hopping, tour guide rates, “no guide, no tour” policy, and monitoring of illegal tour operators.

This is especially critical due to Siargao Islands Protected Landscape and Seascape (SIPLAS), which mandates the preservation and protection of the island community.

Samuel Luna Malayao, protected area superintendent of SIPLAS, stressed that discipline should also be instilled in everyone to achieve sustainable tourism. He told the panel: “It’s a product of values transformation of everyone because one has to be empowered in order to give contribution for the conservation of our environment.”

Innovation for better opportunities

The government and the people can also take stock of technological innovations, such as early warning systems, in achieving sustainability.

For Coro, early warnings system can help their LGU to protect the residents of Del Carmen by learning the risk of every community. When a storm is coming, Komunidad’s Early Warning System can inform them which areas are at risk.

The town mayor continued: “You know how to respond and practice the response. With practicing, you start recognizing that if you do this, what are the potential risks and risk reduction efforts you can do,” such as stockpiling of food for areas that are difficult to reach.

Camingue also shared that Siargao has learned the significance of having an early warning systems in place, and of “investing in infrastructure such as building climate-smart buildings… [and putting up] proper water waste management system.”

Since Siargao is a protected landscape and seascape that is inhabited by people—and its population continues to grow—Malayao meanwhile stressed: “It is very important that people live in harmony with nature.”

The KomunidadXchange on the island is an offshoot of the company’s ongoing Resilient-Siargao Project, where stakeholders were given access to the Climate Action Center and given training to maximize its features to refine their disaster preparedness and mitigation protocols.

The event is an output from a GSMA Innovation Fund for Climate Resilience and Adaptation, an initiative funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), and is supported by the GSMA and its members.

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