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Matugases start work to give Surigao tourism a big boost

Siargao Island, long touted as the country's surfing capital, with big barreling waves and lush greeneries, is repositioning itself as Mindanao's premier tourism destination of choice. With the new direction in mind, Siargao Island's municipalities and its jump off point, Surigao city, will be establishing new facilities to better serve the influx of both local and international tourists. Rep. Francisco Matugas of the 1st District of Surigao del Norte, said the development of the tourism industry in the province is part of a master plan.

"Tourism is job. That's how we look at it, we want to further develop the tourism capabilities that Siargao and Surigao City have to offer," Matugas told reporters here. Matugas said the expansion of the Siargao Island airport's runway and facilities would be started soon. There are currently two flights to Siargao from Cebu each week. "Tourists know where Siargao is, and we have to capitalize on that awareness to encourage more to come," said Matugas's wife Sol. The congressman's wife is Surigao del Norte's governor.

The Matugases are aiming for economic improvement through tourism. The province recently received from the tourism department a grant for special development program which means more tourism-related infrastructure and facilities. But the island is facing serious environmental concerns brought about by the extensive mineral extraction operations in the town of Claver which is right across the island.

Siltation from the mining operations in the Novienta mountains by multinational companies is a nightmare waiting to happen as these would affect the water quality in the island. Tourists who venture into the Suhuton coves have complained that the water is no longer crystal clear as it used to be.

Gov. Matugas said finding a balance between tourism and mining "is like an acrobatic act and is by far the biggest challenge to her leadership". She said since she became governor, she has been vocal about the mining operations but such operation also drives the economy of the province, and it provides thousands of jobs. Finding harmony between these two opposing forces can really get tricky. And as such, it takes careful maneuvers to bring in progress in the province. Rep. Matugas said, "It is a task that can be considered as the fine art of balancing what is achievable for sustainable future."

He said as part enticing more tourism and to alleviate their security concerns, there are plans to institutionalize the "tourism police". Members of the tourism police would be trained so that they would be well versed when it comes to the province's facilities and topography as well as its history. The grand plan for Siargao Island is to make it a "tourism estate" and a hot eco-tourism destination. Officials said this is achievable given the island's immense natural beauty and wonder. Aside from surfing and snorkelling, every summer, the island hosts an international fishing competition where anglers from across the globe vie for the biggest catch the immense Pacific Ocean has to offer.

But the concept of an immense tourism destination presents also its vast environmental concerns like what is happening in the world famous Boracay Island. Boracay is besieged with problems ranging from garbage to contaminated water supply and a real estate boom that drives the island property prices soaring up high. There are also reports that prostitution is now prevalent in the island, young high school girls are being pimped out to foreigners. The unstable power supply is also a major turn-off for many tourists.

The public transport system is being improved as officials maintained that a "green public transport" would also mean less pollution in the island. The technology on e-jeepney and e-trike, both powered by electricity, is already available. The island lacks a solid banking system, prompting Rep. Matugas to urge the Land Bank of the Philippines to reopen its branch to serve the influx of tourists. LBP once operated in the island but has closed down due to losses. (Bobby Lagsa, MGDaily)

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