Wednesday, June 28, 2006


By Vicente Labro
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Page A16, June 24, 2006 issue

THERE seems to be no shortage of natural wonders on Samar Island. New eco-tourism sites rise almost every year to accommodate nature lovers and adventure seekers who want to relish nature’s world.

Last summer, a mountain resort operated by the local farmers’ community was inaugurated in Basey and this immediately caught the attention of nature lovers. Located about 20 kilometers from the Basey town proper, the new place boasts of a tranquil and cool atmosphere beneath tall trees and beside a stream whose clear water comes from a waterfall. And it is being run by a group of villagers.

Since its opening last April, the resort has attracted a host of people who came either to just be in touch with nature or to enjoy their excursions or picnics amid the stately trees, the cool stream and the marvelous Balantac Falls.

With many people already coming to the resort, the management has given an assurance that they would never allow the place to lose its natural grandeur. In fact, their foremost concern is to protect and conserve the environment even as they continue to attract excursionists and tourists into this nature resort.

“Actually we did not plan to open the place this early, but people just kept on coming that we have no choice but to accommodate them,” said Nelson Abiada, member of the board director of Rawis Community-based Resource Management Association (RCRMA), referring to the newly opened 6-hectare Balantac Resort.

According to Abiada, Samar Gov. Milagrosa T. Tan provided a funding of over P1 million for the initial development of Balantac Resort. The municipal government, headed by Mayor Vic Labuac, initiated the release of funds for the mountain resort, he added.

Tan and some provincial and municipal officials attended the inauguration of the resort’s Phase 1 last April 19 and since then, Abiada said, people have kept on coming to the RCRMA-managed Balantac Resort.

Minimal fees, future plans

Though the construction of their single and duplex cottages is not yet finished, and they still lack guest cabins, beddings and electricity, the resort is now operating regularly, charging an entrance fee of P5 for each child and P10 for an adult, and a kiosk rental of P100.

Guests would fill all of the resort’s 14 kiosks, especially during weekends, that some of the visitors would just have their picnics on grassy spots beneath the trees.
Abiada said visitors could also hold seminars and even stay overnight at the resort’s two-story Tourism Center, where native products are also displayed for sale.

The Tourism Center, kiosks, and the unfinished cottages are all made of native materials. The kiosks line both sides of the stream, from near the waterfall upstream down to the lower level where a big man-made pool is located. The latter is a favorite of visitors who want to splash and swim in the cool, spring water.

Abiada said they would continue developing the Balantac Resort. In fact, he added, they plan to put up a camping site on a grassy clearing near the trees and across the stream, to put up a “green area” planted with vegetables and ornamental plants, and to construct a 1.5-km pathway leading to two unexplored caves and a hot spring.
“All these will help in the promotion of environmental awareness to our visitors,” he said, referring to their planned projects.

The problem, however, is funding for the next phases of their development project. “We already spent a part of the association’s money during the first phase of the project and we need to replenish that first before we can finance other projects,” he said.

Abiada, however, made it clear that the RCRMA is managing the mountain resort not just for income but more importantly, to preserve and protect the environment. He emphasized that natural resources are perishable and even irreplaceable once lost that they would do their best to safeguard the place.

The venture

The RCRMA was organized in 2000 with 76 members, both males and females, coming from Sitio Rawis, Barangay Guirang, Basey town. Their first venture, he said, was a 246-hectare agro-forestry project in Rawis. They had a coffee plantation and had availed of the government’s carabao dispersal program.

According to Abiada, it was in the 1960s or 1970s when logging firms were still operating in the area that the Balantac Resort was initially developed as a mountain resort where logging officials could relax.

Last year, some municipal officials and RCRMA members thought of redeveloping the place.

Balantac Resort became the second eco-adventure tourism undertaking of the village association, after the Rawis Cave. The cave could be reached from the town proper of Basey by a one-hour motorboat ride along the Golden River of Basey to Sitio Rawis. Its main entrance is located just about 600 meters away from Sitio Rawis.

Years ago, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources regional office based in Tacloban City wanted the Rawis Cave to become a protected area. The cave boasts of unspoiled and exquisite stalactite and stalagmite formations.

But some residents of Sitio Rawis had decided to manage their natural resources by themselves. In a public consultation about the cave, they voted overwhelmingly against the plan to declare the cave a protected area, for this would mean that the management of the cave would fall on the government through a protected area management board.

The RCRMA now manages both the cave and the mountain resort, and they share the income derived from entrance and other fees with the municipal government.
Sitio Rawis is located about 3 km downhill from Balantac Resort. In the 1960s until the 1980s the village had served as a campsite of one of the big logging firms then operating in Samar. Logging operations in the area ceased in 1989 when the government declared a moratorium on the cutting of trees on the whole Samar Island.
About 600 meters from the Rawis village proper is the entrance of the Rawis Cave. Despite the cave being near a logging campsite, only a few people dared explored the cave and this was already in the 1990s.

Villagers believe that supernatural beings inhabit the cave. According to some of the locals, early residents of Rawis saw a “bulalakaw” or a burning meteorite fall from the skies and soar along the Golden River before finally entering the cave. Since that incident no one dared come close to the cave until the early 1990s.
But if there’s something strange inside the cave, it’s about how nature was able to mold those beautiful and gleaming stalagmites and stalactites that are of different shapes and sizes.

Iluminado Duran, popularly known as Mano Lume, 59, is one of the guides available to those who want to explore the Rawis Cave. Before entering the cave, Mano Lume would first knock on the wall to announce the group’s arrival. Then he would offer a sort of prayer for the “unseen dwellers” of Rawis Cave.

The first things that cave explorers would notice inside the Rawis Cave, however, are the bats. There are of two kinds of bats in the cave, the tiny bats and the larger ones. The small bats occupy some small holes on the cave ceiling while the larger ones hang upside down, also from the ceiling.

Mano Lume revealed that thousands of bats occupy another cave not far from Rawis. This bat cave was featured in a TV show, together with another nearby cave that is occupied by hundreds of snakes.

After meeting the bats, Mano Lume would lead the explorers to the underground wonders of Rawis Cave. The formations found inside the cave include a giant stalactite, a “picture frame,” a statue of the Virgin Mary, a natural bathtub, and a statue of the Madonna. Other formations resemble a miniature of the rice terraces and of the Great Wall of China. There are also plenty of cave pearls inside Rawis Cave, and this shows that the cavern is in pristine condition.

Already, many people, including foreigners, have visited Rawis Cave. Some of them said the boat ride along the snaking Golden River of Basey was already an experience by itself, and that the trek inside Rawis Cave was an ultimate experience.

The town of Basey, however, is more popular as the site of the 840-hectare Sohoton Natural Bridge National Park, which is located about 5 km upstream of Sitio Rawis.

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