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When a massive 7.2-magnitude earthquake jolted Bohol on October 15, 2013, there was a general concern its booming tourism industry might suffer tremendously as a lot of establishments, heritage sites and renowned structures were severely damaged.

collage1 bohol-webBut in less than two years since the devastating tremor struck the island province at its core, Bohol appears to have gotten back on its feet. Its nature-based tourism remains as strong and vibrant as ever, as if nothing had happened.

Although the centuries-old Catholic churches badly hit by the quake are still in the process of restoration and rebuilding, they remain a magnet for tourists amid their present condition. The same goes with some geologic changes that occurred after the earthquake.

There was indeed a silver lining to the devastation because it has given birth to new tourist attractions like ground rupture, uplifted coastal area and sinkholes, which are part of the so-called “geosciences tour” now being offered in the province.

These changes brought by the quake are giving foreign and local travelers more places to go, besides the captivating natural landmarks that made Bohol one of the most visited provinces and top tourist destinations in the country.

Bohol has a wealth of biological diversity, being home to jaw-dropping natural land forms, scenic rivers and tiny adorable primates.

It is a treasure trove of breathtaking natural beauty as evidenced by the world-famous Chocolate Hills, the majestic Loboc River, the stunning Rajah Sikatuna National Park, Panglao’s white sand beaches, among others.


Sustainable tourism

As the primary government agency responsible for conservation, management, development and proper use of the country’s environment and natural resources, the DENR plays a major role in ensuring the sustainability of Bohol’s natural attractions.

Nestor Canda, the provincial environment and natural resources officer (PENRO), said the DENR has been actively promoting the importance of conserving Bohol’s natural biodiversity by directly protecting wildlife and their habitats, while keeping a close watch on any violation of environmental laws and regulations.

“We are working toward achieving the right balance between development and conservation goals,” Canda said.

He said the DENR is closely coordinating with various local governments and people’s organizations in Bohol to ensure that ecotourism is carefully planned and implemented.

Canda said the key to a successful ecotourism industry is a more balanced and integrative approach, founded on the guiding principles of sustainable development.

“A more balanced and integrated approach is essential to maximize the benefits and minimize the negative impacts of ecotourism in Bohol,” Canda pointed out.

Geological monument

geological-monument-webJust recently, the DENR – through Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje – declared as a geological monument certain coastal areas in the municipalities of Loon and Maribojoc, which were uplifted after the 2013 earthquake. It will be known as the Loon-Maribojoc Geological Monument.

Paje said the declaration, embodied in DENR Administrative Order No. 2015-08, aims at ensuring the preservation and protection of the 137-hectare coastline for scientific, educational and tourism purposes.

“Initial assessment made by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau showed that the uplifted coastal area has unique geological features that must be protected and preserved not only to draw more tourists but to encourage further researches and studies for the advancement of geosciences in the country,” Paje explained.

Canda also saw additional challenges for the DENR and other stakeholders.

“There is a challenge to preserve the corals for further studies and researches,” he said, referring to the presence of exposed reefs as resulting from the uplift.

Canda also underscored the need to assess the vegetation that may arise, as well the marine biodiversity in the area and evaluate the economic implication of the geological phenomenon.

Great Wall of Bohol’

great-wall-webThe epicenter of the deadly earthquake that shook Bohol and nearby provinces was plotted near the boundary of the towns of Sagbayan and Catigbian. The quake was generated by the newly discovered North Bohol Fault and has produced at least 6,000 aftershocks as of May 2014, of which over a hundred were reported felt.

The earthquake was so powerful that it not only caused vast destruction, but also killed more than 200 people and displaced nearly 371,000 more across the island.

Canda said the power of the earthquake was illustrated by the length of the ground rupture it left behind.

A shocking remnant of the strong quake was a continuous ground rupture of six kilometers pushed up a stretch of ground up to an average two meters high, with Barangay Anonang in Inabanga town incurring vertical displacements as high as five meters. The rocky wall created by the quake is now called the “Great Wall of Bohol.”

Apart from being a physical evidence of the earthquake’s impact, the massive crack serves as an educational attraction, and provides additional information and explanations of why and how a place changes from a disaster.


sinkhole-webThe earthquake also resulted in the emergence of several sinkholes all over the island province. The DENR’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) has discovered a total of 1,333 sinkholes in Bohol, including the 60-feet deep karst site in Catigbian town.

Now becoming a popular attraction among adventurous tourists, the Catigbian Karst Window is a sinkhole developed in a rectangular shape, which is a natural depression or hole in the surface topography caused by karst processes or the chemical dissolution of carbonate rocks.

Sinkholes are common where the rock below the land surface is limestone, just like in Bohol. The MGB had earlier said the island’s land surface is almost 80 percent limestone.

Canda said the sinkholes are actually part of the slow, natural process of erosion in Bohol’s limestone terrain that occurs over thousands of years. The earthquake merely facilitated the ground’s rupture, exposing cavities beneath the soil surface, he explained.


The PENRO disclosed his office is currently coordinating with the MGB, the provincial government and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for the possibility of declaring the entire province of Bohol as a geological park or Geopark.

Once declared a Geopark, Bohol will be included in the Global Geoparks Network being supported by the UNESCO, the same agency that proclaimed the Chocolate Hills a national geological monument and proposed its inclusion in the World Heritage List.

The UNESCO described Geopark as a unified area with geological heritage of international significance. Geoparks, it said, hold records of past climate change and are educators on current climate change as well as adopting a best practice approach to utilizing renewable energy and employing the best standards of “green tourism.”

Tourism industry promotion in Geopark, as a geographically sustainable and applicable tourism model, aims to sustain, or even enhance, the geographical character of a place, the UNESCO said.

Canda said a Geopark title for Bohol would help enhance the value of the province, create employment, promote local economic development, and more importantly, boost environmental protection efforts.

Welcome additions

bohol rapture-webThe fault rupture, uplifted coast and sinkholes have certainly changed Bohol’s landscape forever, and residents seem to have learned to accept them.

These changes present an opportunity to the province to transform its situation and provide its people additional livelihood through its ever-growing ecotourism industry.

The remnants of the deadly earthquake are welcome additions to the long list of natural wonders Bohol can offer, thus making every visit to the island a more worthwhile and memorable experience. ###






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  Lake-Pandin banner2

San Pablo City is a first class city in Laguna, and that province’s largest in terms of land area. It is also one of the Philippines’ oldest cities. Its biggest pride, however, is in being the only city or municipality in the country with seven crater lakes – Lakes Sampaloc, Bunot, Calibato, Palakpakin, Muhikap, and the twin lakes of Pandin and Yambo. These seven freshwater lakes were formed when previous eruptions of nearby Mt. San Cristobal interacted with groundwater to form depressions that rains eventually filled up.

As part of this year’s celebration of World Water Day, representatives from agencies who are partners in water conservation went on a tour to Lake Pandin in Brgy. Santo Angel. The trip provided quite an unforgettable experience for the participants, as it showcased an interplay among three types of mothers.

A mother’s woe: The curse and tragedy of Andin

lake-yambuA visit to Lake Pandin would not be complete without at least a short trek to its twin Lake Yambu. They are “twins” because they are the only lakes in San Pablo that are located alongside each other, separated only by a narrow strip of land. One can cross over this land through a short five-minute uphill trek before being treated with the blue water of Yambu.

Local hosts engagingly tell the story of ill-fated Andin and Ambo. Andin was the long-desired-for daughter of a mat-weaving couple who promised that if they ever had a child, they would not let her feet touch the ground. When Andin was born, the couple kept to their promise by forbidding their daughter to step outdoors.

Andin grew up to be a beautiful lady that the lad Ambo fell in love with. But one day, when the old couple went into town to hawk their mats, Ambo, unaware of the “curse”, tricked Andin into setting her foot onto the ground outdoors. No sooner had the lady’s toes touched the ground when the earth shook and spurted water that swallowed up the two, their hands still grasping each other’s as represented by the strip of land that separates the twin lakes.

Enchanting the story may be, but the real star of Lake Pandin is, of course, the lake itself.


Mother Nature at its best: A pristine, serene, and green lake

raft3Visitors coming in from a short hike from the main road will be greeted with glimpses of sparklingly clear green waters of the 24-hectare Lake Pandin surrounded with lush vegetation. This foliage is part of a 44-hectare microwatershed. The oligotrophic quality of the lake supports abundant plant and fish life.

Still water indeed runs deep because Pandin, one of the most pristine and serene among San Pablo’s seven lakes, has a maximum depth of 61.75 meters. It has no inlet, and is recharged by the rain and underground water while discharging into Laguna de Bay through the Prinsa River.

A tourist shells out P360 to board a raft – P180 for the tour, and P180 for a hearty lunch. Swimming in the cool waters and making that short uphill trek towards Lake Yambu are optional activities. The entire tour is camera-worthy, but tourists are warned about dropping their gadgets into the lake, whose depth makes it almost impossible to retrieve items at the bottom.

There are two stop-sites on the lake. One is an old balete tree whose vines can act as a swing to those who dare jump into the lake. The vines used to be thick enough to hide a whole raft, but typhoon Glenda (international codename: Rammasun) battered the area in July 2014 and destroyed most of the trees surrounding the lake and broke off most of the balete’s vines.

The other stop is at a small grotto on the other side of the lake. Here flows a small spring from which the members of the community can source their fresh water for domestic use.


The mothers of Brgy. Santo Angel: A showcase of woman empowerment

Lake Pandin’s visitors take a tour around the lake aboard bamboo rafts featuring a hut with a table and chairs. The rafts are manually pulled across the lake. But what strikes the visitor the most is the fact that the rafters are women from Barangay Santo Angel.

raftThese women are led by Cristina Abrego, president of the Pandin Lakewide Fisheries and Aquatic Resource Management Council, and an active member of the Samahan ng mga Kababaihang Mangingisda at Bangkera sa Lawa ng Pandin, an organization that never fails to amaze visitors for their showcase of “woman power.”

Abrego is also an awardee of the Laguna Lake Development Authority’s 2015 Kampeon ng Lawa. Although a nursing graduate, she has chosen to protect her beloved lake which had sustained their family throughout the years.

Along with several other women in the community, Abrego had worked beside their husbands in harvesting fish from the lake – tilapia, dalag (mudfish), bakuli (young mudfish), hito (catfish), ayungin (silver perch), and shrimp. But with fish yield unpredictable and sometimes irregular in volume, as well as the rising cost of feeds, they realized the need to identify an alternative source of livelihood to support their fishing income. Finally, a non-government organization taught them to capitalize on the lake’s beauty, and the ecotourism component was born.

The ecotourism project started out in 2005 with a raft made of seven bamboo poles able to accommodate two to three people. Today, 11 rafts are available for visitors, who are encouraged to book in advance. Peak season usually comes during Holy Week, where they receive up to more than 100 visitors.


The local communities around San Pablo have learned to accept and live with threats from nature, such as typhoons and droughts. But Brgy. Santo Angel feels more threatened by private property owners cutting off their access to the lake, as well as losing the lake itself to pollution.

Incidences of tree cutting also threaten the supply of detrital matter that act as food to the lake’s creatures, destroy the natural habitat of birds and insects in the area, as well as diminish the lake’s natural beauty. Abrego, however, says that there are existing ordinances that ban tree cutting within the Seven Lakes, and they are quick to report loggers to the authorities.

Managing the lake

fishing lakeSeveral stakeholders from the national and local governments, civil society and the private sector have come together to implement the 2015-2019 Pandin Lake Development Management Plan. The main goals of the plan are to ensure that tourists enjoy and learn from their experience with the lake, increase revenues from ecotourism and raise the community’s standard of living, and be considered as a prime tourist destination in Laguna.

The plan also aims to maintain and possibly improve the lake’s water quality, which at present is classified as “Class C” that makes it safe for fisheries and recreational activities such as boating and swimming.

The plan has also identified projects for the lake. These include: enacting and implementing policies on peace and order; establishing a knowledge center on data and information on Pandin Lake; establishing a “Cultural Heritage Center” to preserve and share San Pablo City’s culture, history and tradition; reforesting the 20-hectare watershed area; and developing an ecopark.

As with other ecotourism sites, however, the beauty, quality and productivity of Lake Pandin lies largely on the mutual cooperation among all stakeholders involved. While the women of the community struggle to care for the lake, visitors are likewise encouraged to think of ways to help preserve the condition of Lake Pandin and share its beauty to the rest of the world.

Preserving Philippine water resources

water mgt lake-pandinDepartment of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje, while representing the Philippine delegation to the 7th World Water Forum held in South Korea in April, has ensured that the country’s water resources, which includes Lake Pandin, will remain “safe, sanitized, and accessible to all.”

"The Philippines ensures that the vast water resources of the country will be safe, sanitized and accessible to all our citizens through initiatives on the preservation of watersheds, guaranteeing good water quality, efficient allocation and water use, eradication of water pollution, and establishment of water facilities and infrastructures," Paje said.

He also committed to support the 7th World Water Forum Ministerial Declaration through enhanced institutionalization and implementation of the Philippine Integrated Water Resources Management Framework.

"We will exert extra effort to translate our existing policies into concrete actions and align these with the 7th World Water Forum's Implementation Roadmap."

Being one of the nations most vulnerable to climate change impacts, Paje said the Philippines further commits to "strengthen our resiliency programs stressing the importance of effective river basin approaches."

He likewise told the delegates that the Philippines has also embarked on arresting aridity, brought about by extreme weather events, by enhancing forest cover and water availability to communities and sectors, particularly agriculture.###


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