Tourism, Agriculture and political peace powers Cordillera in 2013
December 26, 2013
Baguio City — As the year 2013 winds down to its last days, tourists continue to flock to this city to rekindle romance, make family bonds memorable, or simply, to experience the closest thing to a wintry Yuletide holidays away from all the worries of everyday dealing.
Call it the “City of Pines” or the “Summer Capital,” Baguio keeps improving itself as a vacationer’s haven as seen this year when Burnham Park was relaunched into a world-class park through the efforts of the local government and the Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA). The P40-million rehabilitation followed the master development plan by former congressman Bernardo Vergara with a team of architecture students from the University of the Cordilleras.
Rose Garden now has three fountains, a new landscape, ampitheater with seating benches, walkways with Herrington mosaic tiles, center stage, senior at youth park lawns including the planting of herbs, roses on the park’s surroundings with shrub.
Even the Bishop Cup Foundation, led by Bishop Carlito Cenzon, made a pitch for the fencing of the park, which was installed with solar energy lights for nighttime security.
With the programs and improvements that add up to the natural attractions of Baguio, City Tourism Officer Benedicto Alhambra expressed optimism that by the start of 2014, it will have surpassed its 1.7-million tourist arrival target.
This year also saw how a stronger tourism program in Baguio was complemented by greater political peace and security unseen in the Cordilleras for decades.
In Abra, for instance, the oft-turbulent political situation made a 180-degree turn in 2013 as it recorded zero political killings. This becomes even more significant due to the fact that it is an election year.
Credit this to Conflict Mediation and Diffusion (CMD) program conceived and implemented by Chief Superintendent Benjamin Magalong, Police Regional Office-Cordillera director; Chief Supt. Robert Soriano, Task Force Abra chief; Major General Delfin Carmelo Iriberri, 503rd Brigade Commander; and Senior Supt. Benjamin Lusad, Abra Police Provincial Office director.
The CMD gameplan was to engage politicians in dialogue, pacifying their brewing grudges, and reassuring each of them impartiality on the part of the police and military.
This did not mean Abra was taken off the list of “hot spots” declared by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) last May, but it resulted in a very peaceful and orderly election season – from the campaign to the proclamation.
It was a different story, though, with the communist rebels who brought despair among “kailians” (town mates) in the Mountain Province and Ifugao.
On April 5, three police officers were killed and three more were injured when rebels ambushed them in Sitio Nangkatengay, Barangay Namal, Asipulo, Ifugao.
The rebels used automatic rifles and grenade, said Sr. Supt. Angelito Casimiro, Ifugao PPO director, of the ambush staged at 7:25 a.m.
The victims were members of the Ifugao Provincial Safety Company and all natives of the place. Their mission was not even against the rebels, but to investigation of a series of murders which residents had asked to be solved to maintain peace in their remote town.
On June 28, the rebels struck again – this time, opening fire at members of the Regional Public Safety Battalion who were undergoing training in Tadian, Mountain Province.
“They were unarmed,” an irate Magalong told reporters then, adding that the group – 70 of whom were women – were jogging when they were fired upon by New People’s Army (NPA) rebels. One policeman was killed and nine others were wounded.
•Agriculture Is Key
Despite these, many parts of the region was geared for economic progress like Benguet, whose farm produce has entered the world market. Benguet Governor Nestor Fongwan, in a telephone interview yesterday said a lot of efforts are continuously being bolstered to protect the livelihood of its people. About 90 percent of the residents are engaged in farming.
Its 13 municipalities – Atok, Bakun, Bokod, Buguias, Itogon, Kabayan, Kapangan, Kibungan, La Trinidad, Mankayan, Sablan, Tuba, Tublay all produce agricultural products ranging from vegetables to cutflowers.
With the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement expected to be in full force by 2015, and the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade of the World Trade Organization (WTO-GATT), Fongwan said the threat on the province’s livelihood is being faced head-on with the allocation of substantial a amount from the 2013 budget to improve the produce of Benguet, not just to sustain the people’s livelihood but more so, to allow their products to compete with the world’s produce in terms of quality and price.
In 2013, Benguet has imported new planting materials from Argentina – an improved quality, to upgrade the present production.
Likewise, the Department of Agriculture, Provincial Agriculture Office and the Benguet State University’s research center have engaged in propagating an all-season variety of strawberry. Benguet hopes to produce good quality and low priced strawberries the whole year round.
The province’ partnership with the Japanese government for the technical knowledge is another addition to the improvements made in the agriculture sector.
Going organic, a system that lowers the cost of production, is also being pushed to bring down the selling price of farm produce.
Shift from chemical to organic vegetable production also attracts many consumers who have become health conscious, said Fongwan.