Batanes is not anyone’s private playground

In terms of travel and tourism, there is only one issue that can make me flare up and hound an opposing opinion (and beat it down to a bloody pulp long after it has stopped having a pulse.)  I am talking about the widespread belief that high air fares are necessary in order to preserve whatever is beautiful about Batanes. If you are one of the very few people who actually read this blog, you’d remember me mentioning something like this a few times in the past.  But recently, I got into a tiff with a certain Cris Reyes Galang when she posted the following note in Facebook:

Here’s the context: Airphil Express announced that it would offer much lower-priced flights servicing the Manila-Basco route starting May 2013, thereby opening up Batanes to a possible exponential increase in the province’s tourism arrivals.  She posted the message on the Facebook page of Skyjet, a semi-luxury carrier that is currently servicing the same route, but which currently charges more than P16,000 round trip per person.

A lot more words were exchanged between us after that statement was posted.  But since Ms. Galang is hardly alone in her belief (and I suspect it might even be the majority opinion) I will instead address not just her but everyone who is of like mind.  I will lay down their usual statements and demolish each one by discussing why they are wrong.

1.  There is a direct relationship between being able to pay a high price and being a responsible tourist.

The error in this line of thinking does not need expounding.  The belief that individuals who are willing to pay a high air fare are more “responsible” tourists smacks of elitism and ignorance.  In addition, it naturally comes across as insulting to those who are not willing nor able to pay the same high price.  People have different priorities.  You can’t say that a person who wants to spend his/her hard-earned money to embark on an expensive vacation is more responsible that someone who would rather spend that same money to study, or raise a family, or pay for the mortgage. It’s not even a valid argument that the act of going through hardships just to save a lot of money to pay for very costly air fare would somehow instill responsibility in someone.  That’s clearly non sequitur.

And besides, not everyone who is willing to pay the high air fare goes through “hardships”.  Maybe they have rich parents, or high paying jobs, or maybe they’re even corrupt government officials.  For every person who has to work his/her @$$ off to pay a P16,000++ airfare, there are those who simply purchase the tickets effortlessly with hardly any consequence on their finances.  What then is the source of responsibility in this? Obviously, it’s something other than the capability or willingness to pay.

2.  Batanes is at its best if it remains “intimate” and “exclusive”.

Intimate and exclusive for whom, exactly? Anyone who has never been to Batanes before and has only seen the pretty pictures have this idea that Batanes is one big beautiful place where they can explore and run along the hills and sing a la the Sound of Music all day long – your own private playground where you don’t have to compete against anybody for space. That’s part of the allure.  I know, I was one of them.

But then when I actually got to Batanes, I discovered that it’s just like any place in the Philippines in the sense that there were a lot of people there who had to work hard to survive, and who had to deal with the fact that they lived in a place with a harsh environment and ruled over by typical Filipino politicians.  Many of them had to leave and find their luck elsewhere just so their families could have a better life back home. Everywhere in the social media, I encounter Ivatans (Batanes natives) who haven’t been able to go home to the land of their birth in years – in some cases, even decades – because they can not afford the generally high air fares going to Batanes.  These are the very people who are adversely affected if the status quo were to remain.

If we were to advocate a high price floor on Manila-Batanes flights, then we would necessarily be supporting the practice of allowing people from higher economic classes to travel to Batanes, to the exclusion of everyone else.  And as far as “everyone else” is concerned, there are many, many Ivatans in this latter group.  And the last time I checked, Ivatans are the ones who deserve the most to be in Batanes.  Clearly there’s something morally wrong in that scenario.

Forget the iconic vakul. This is what Ivatans really look like nowadays.

And even if you take away Ivatans from the picture, it is still morally questionable to advocate a blanket exclusion of people from lower economic classes from traveling there.  For reasons I already explained in #1, there is clearly nothing that proves that people who can pay the airfare deserve be in Batanes more than those who can not.  Again, the word “elitism” can not be stressed enough.

3.  Development and commercialization is bad for Batanes.

I hear this a lot, even from those who have never been to Batanes.  Apparently, there is a prevailing belief that the only way to preserve the natural beauty and culture of Batanes is if the Ivatans are blocked from any sort of development and commercialization.

You know what development and commercialization has brought to Batanes?  To name a few: electricity, clean fresh water, clean drinking water, basic goods, telecommunications, information technology, the Internet, vehicles, concrete roads, airports, etc., etc.  As far as I know, no Ivatan is complaining about all these.  Who are we to tell the Ivatans that they should not develop?  They don’t exactly exist purely for our viewing pleasure, you know.  And besides, the development that many of us dismiss as detrimental to the Ivatans is the same development that enables anyone to go to Batanes in the first place.

If anything, there has been too little development in Batanes.  Back in 2009, when I was in the municipality of Savidug in the island of Sabtang, a place known for its old Spanish-era stone houses, I chatted with an old homeowner who saw me taking pictures.  She asked me what I thought of their place, and I told her that it was very beautiful.  Her reply was something I completely didn’t expect.  She said, “Maganda para sa inyo, pero kami hindi umuunlad.  Hanggang ganito na lang ang buhay namin.”  (Yes, she spoke Tagalog quite fluently, as do most Ivatans.)

Ruins of abandoned stone houses in Savidug.

I’m sure she didn’t mean to make me feel guilty, but that’s how I felt when I realized that all around Savidug, old houses were crumbling down, and the observable [low] level of income of the people there is not commensurate to the number of tourists that regularly flock to the place.  (And there I was, taking pictures of them as if they were a living museum exhibit.) 

At that moment, it seemed like a veil was lifted from my face and for the first time, I met the very people who were the most adversely affected by the lack of development in Batanes. We expect these people to preserve their old houses and their way of life, but do almost nothing to assist them when these prove incompatible to modern life.  Right now, Savidug is threatened by uncontrolled development wherein modern structures are beginning to be built alongside heritage structures.  The same is true in other Batanes municipalities, and in fact, has been going on for a long time.

Development and commercialism will come to Batanes whether we like it or not, but by imposing an artificial impediment to these, the only type of development and commercialism that will ever come to the province will be the uncontrolled type.  And in this way, everybody loses.  It is possible to control development to a level that will benefit all stakeholders, and especially the Ivatans themselves – whose welfare really should be the first one to be considered in discussions of this sort.

= = = = = = = = = =

I maintain that both (1) the political will of the leaders of Batanes; and (2) the personal sense of responsibility of everyone in Batanes, whether Ivantans or tourists, are the key to preserving its natural beauty and culture in the midst of an increase in tourism levels.  I further maintain that contrary to popular belief, development and commercialism is never incompatible with such preservation.  Increased tourism will always entail increased revenues.  Under a competent local government and responsible citizenry, these revenues will translate to better basic and social services and livelihood assistance to the Ivatans.  They will even translate to better upkeep of heritage structures.

If we look back at the past 50 years of Batanes (and who of us would actually do that, eh?), the inescapable conclusion is that high air fares have done more harm than good for the Ivatans.  The only ones who would favor this setup are (1) those who are moneyed enough to chase a fantasy they’re hardly entitled to …in a place they hardly understand, and (2) certain airline companies that would benefit from a practical monopoly in the Basco-Manila route (and quite possibly some government officials who allow the setup in the first place.)

We must not be so arrogant to think that we know what is best for the Ivatans.  i.e., we must never substitute our own tastes, beliefs and fantasies of an idyllic Batanes for what is actually needed by the people there.  By lowering air fares, their hands are now being untied.  They will be able to play a more active role in determining the course of their own development by having more opportunities and options to decide for themselves which is best for their land.

And among other things, they will no longer be anyone’s private playground.

= = = = = = = = = =

(Cris Reyes Galang apparently reported my comments as “abusive” in Facebook and had them removed.  I would have posted my own comments here, but they were gone before I could make a screenshot.  Funny how my posts – substantive and without any profanity whatsoever – got reported and removed, while other people’s comments calling her “jerk” and “stupid” were allowed to remain by her. I also could no longer view her comments nor her profile, which could only mean that she had me blocked in Facebook.  Again, this is funny because last year, it was she who actually sent a request to add me as a friend in FB.  I don’t make it a point to add strangers in FB, most especially bloggers who just want to direct hits to their income-generating sites and forget about you afterwards.  I ignored her request, and now it seems that I did the right thing.)

14 thoughts on “Batanes is not anyone’s private playground

  1. Hahaha… sabi nga sa isang Radyo program, Punto Asintado!!! Inisip ko na nga na you will loose your thoughts whenever such issue will occur again as I had read your previous thoughts of this things…Di ako nagkamali. You hit the mark!. Nice one!

  2. Commercialization is not bad at all… but commercialization on some degree which threaten the natural environment is bad at all. I just hope and pray that the government and people will do its best to protect the island.

    Historically and reality speaking I believe that opening more commercialization will somewhat opening to spoilage and destruction of one’s natural environment. You just wait to hit the tipping point… though I am still hopeful that there would be local leaders to stand up to preserve what they have. I pray that the locals stay as they are (while improving their lives from the benefits of in-flocks of tourist arrival)

    God Bless to you Sir and more Travels =)

  3. I agree with you on making airfares more affordable to the native Ivatans, but just based on history of the actions of not only government officials but greedy businessman, and we can’t ignore history, increase in commercialization of Batanes will endanger it’s environment and ecosystem.
    Just look at what happened to Borocay. I’m for people having the dignity of making an honest good living but not rampant greed of profit. I can’t argue that it did’t provide jobs, but at what expense. Conservation is almost nonexistent. Boracay is losing its natural beauty each day with the overpopulation and lack of regular maintenance, not to mention the waste from the hotels. Visitors have noted an increase growth of algae along side the beaches, a sign of pollution, and the large crowds that litter and make a mess of the interior of the island. This is only the beginning of the end of Borocay’s natural beauty and it will not stop until someone steps in and put a stop to this over commercialization with increase conservation methods.
    Another gem of the Philippines is Palawan. I’m afraid there will be increase deforestation in Palawan which will ultimately lead to catastrophic landslides endangering the local population. Just look at the hypocrisy of Gina Lopez trying to ban mining in Palawan only to replace it with her own agenda. While ecotourism is preferred, any development work must and should be made to go through the same stringent Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) that the IPs (indigenous peoples) demanded of mining companies.

    I could go on and on with examples of what over commercialization will do to Batanes and the Ivatan people and probably won’t convince people who are on the side of increase commercialization of Batanes. I’m afraid the Gina Lopez of the world will bring their greedy tactics onto the shores of Batanes and ruin what is a beautiful part of the Philippines to what would become an environmental nightmare for the Ivatan people.

    If commercialization is inevitable, then there must be strict adherence to save the environment and the ecosystem of Batanes. From experience, the island of Maui, frowns upon plastic products and store owners do not readily give plastic bags to their customers unless their is no choice. To start with, maybe Batanes can ban plastic and styrofoam products such as plastic bags and cups, and replace them with the biodegrable paper bags and cups even if they are slightly more expensive than plastic products. I’ve seen this done in some campuses in the Philippines, so maybe Batanes can expand this to its island. They can also implement rules to collect paper products for recycling as well as plastic products that are currently sold such as soft drinks or bottled water.
    Moreover, then can reduce the number of private vehicles on the island. After the Americans left Subic Bay, tourism was allowed and strict guidance was implemented during Richard Gordon’s era. No private vehicles were allowed inside Subic Bay. You could only hire a license vehicle inside the grounds of Subic. This provided jobs for the locals and at the same time reduced emmissions from private vehicles and was good for the environement. Today Subic is different and greed came into play again and the Subic of 15 yrs ago has turned for the worst in terms of the environment. I see tourist litter as if the beach is an open trash can.

    I sure hope that the people of Batanes will not allow outsiders to spoil their beautiful island even if commercialization will be inevitable.

    • ^ You’ve never been to Batanes, have you?

      Because if you have, then you surely would know that they actually already implement those recycling and waste segregation programs that you are talking about. And you would also know that it’s very, very, very, difficult to bring private vehicles larger than a motorcycle to Batanes due to sea conditions.

  4. Very well written. I enjoyed reading every word as it translated to sentences of pure sense. I am planning to visit Batanes this year and as I scout for the cheapest deals, I realized that the airfare was not part of any. Coming from the working class (hard-working class) with limited budget, I need to put Batanes trip last on my list for now. It may take me a few months to save some hard earned money to afford the trip.

    I agree when people say that we need to preserve the natural beauty of places like Batanes. It would be more fun for everyone though if this advocacy will incorporate the need to improve people’s lives.

    It’s really a matter of being responsible. Pricey air fare and accommodations will not prevent irresponsible people from having their vacation in Batanes. If Ivatans and their local governement has the will to protect the island from irresponsible visitors and greedy businessmen, then preserving natural beauty won’t be a problem.

    One quote I always bear in mind when I travel : “Tread lightly, take only pictures, leave only footprints, kill only time.”

  5. so naligaw ako sa page na to, kc pinapahanap ako ng mom ko ng mabibilan ng batanes products here in manila (kulang daw kc ung nabili nameng pasalubong), kakauwi lang namen kahapon (June 1, 2013) from Batanes.

    sana nga lang talaga hnd masira ang Batanes. Dapat mabigyan ng mas malaking budget o funding ng National Government and LGU to intensify their efforts on coming up with programmatic schemes on how to preserve the natural environment (Intensify Solid Waste Management, Sewerage Treatment Plant, Septage System, Drainage) master plan for tourism (bilin na lang yung areas/ remaining community na maayos pa ang mga vernacular houses and preserve them, then ilipat sila sa ibang lugar na pwede silang magkaroon ng pagkakakitaan, just like what they did in Diura fishing Village, and yung sa Pasture land etc…), programs for cultural heritage, etc.. We do not have the right to isolate Batanes from development just because we want to. Lets just pray na hind sya maging katulad ng Boracay and other places na nag fail ang LGU, and puro rehabilitation efforts na lang magagawa.

  6. Thanks for sharing these thoughts… Good thing i read it while i am still here in Batanes. It is an eye opener for all the “unconsciously selfish” visitors who say, “selling high-priced tickets going to Batanes is good since it will prevent the place from being commercialized”.

  7. First of all, I would like to commend you on your eye-opening post. I have never been to Batanes, and although I’ve always wanted to go there, the fares are keeping me from doing so. Yes, I do believe that there’s a monopoly going on, and basically, the high fares and the difficulty in going there definitely does not guarantee the preservation of the place.

    By preservation, it means the safeguarding of the natural landscape and beauty of the place. However, this does not mean preventing access to the island, as the high fares do not only mean the natives having a more difficult time going home, it also means that the access to acquire the basic needs of the community may be hindered. The statement of the native that you have written in your blog shows that very clearly.

    Anyway, I do hope that the balance between the various needs will be attained. Accessibility, preservation and the uplifting of the community. Again, thank you for your post. Looking forward to more relevant blogs from you.

    • Thanks, rouellachristina. If there’s a “top 5” list of my posts that I want people to read, it’s this. Click on the follow button. I might just post something relevant again, haha

  8. This is the first page I saw on your blog and it’s spot on. Thanks for writing this. I will be visiting Batanes soon and I agree that it’s stupid to wish for any local place to remain isolated just so the rich can enjoy their idyllic fantasies in there. Stupid, selfish, elitist. It makes my blood boil.

    • This is rubbish! Did you guys even research why the airfare to Batanes is expensive? IT’S BECAUSE OF TECHNICAL REASONS not because of the elitists coniving so they can preserve the island and make them the only ones who can enjoy the place. Runway length, airport, aircraft size and wind direction are the major reasons why tickets to Batanes are expensive. Let us stop being ignorant and do a research before we spread lies.

      • No “Jone Dison”. YOU are rubbish because you are probably a twat (or a pro-airline stupidly unpaid troll) who expects “technical reasons” is an acceptable catch-all explanation for whatever bullshit airlines want the public to believe. If your explanation is so plausible (i.e. purely technical reasons), then how can you account for the fact that regular fares to Batanes have actually fallen since 2009 despite inflation? And how about the fact that even when fares were high, SEAir regularly held seat sales? CLUE: Ever heard of the words “competition” and “public demand”? When I wrote that post in March 2013, PAL hasn’t entered the picture yet. In May 2013, it finally did. If PAL is willing to spend more money than SEAir did on the Batanes route to be able to offer lower fares, then the reason is not so technical as you claim.

        Furthermore, did you actually read anywhere in my post or Janis’s reply that we claimed elitists are conniving to keep tickets expensive? What I said (and Janis implied) is that many people JUSTIFY the high fare for elitist reasons. The connivance I claimed was perpetrated by corporate greed and possible government corruption. Obviously a big difference, IF you know how to read.

        You need to learn how to read and comprehend properly before even thinking of lecturing people on the value of research. If any of your succeeding replies will be of the same mediocre quality as the one you made above, I will simply not publish it.

  9. Sana nabasa nya etong blog mo para matauhan… Kasi lahat tayo (mahirap o mayaman man) is may karapatan makaranas o makapunta sa mga magagandang lugar dito sa pinas. I really wish to visit Batanes someday. Sana makahanap nga kami ng promo. Anyway nice blog🙂

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