LAGUNA, PHILIPPINES, MARCH 30, 2011—Nestled at the heart of the fourth-class municipality of Panguil in Laguna Province is a 12-hectare ecological wonder – a clean and green, efficiently managed and lovingly maintained tourist resort owned, operated, and maintained by the local government.
From a fifth-class municipality, an agricultural town with an annual income of Php 24 million in 2004, Panguil is now a fourth-class municipality earning close to Php 50 million a year, Php 1.75 million of which came from the 6-month operation of the Panguil River Eco-Park which opened in June 2010. Panguil Mayor Juanita “Ninay” Manzana hopes that with the success of the eco-park, her town can be upgraded to a third-class municipality in 2011.
Mayor Manzana sees the pristine Panguil River as the ace in her agricultural town that has no large factories or other resources to earn from. Aside from cottage industries like basket-making and papier mache for export, Panguil has fruit-and-vegetable farming, a lovely river that the town has managed to keep clean, a waterfall, and a forested mountain, all of which are possible money-making resources.
For decades, town residents have gone to Panguil River to picnic and gambol in its gentle white waters and trek to the nearby waterfall, paying a token entrance fee of Php 10, not enough to maintain the quality of river water and protect the watershed. It was only when Mayor Manzana took office in 2004 that the area began to be developed into a resort for a wider clientele, with its ecological features intact.
The search for funding to improve the environmental quality of the Panguil River and its watershed brought the Mayor’s attention to the Laguna de Bay Institutional Strengthening and Community Participation (LISCOP) Project implemented by the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) with funding support from the World Bank and the Royal Netherlands Government.
Mayor’s Manzana’s application for a Php 22.044 million financing (Php 9,919,601 sub-loan, Php 8,817423 sub-grant, and 3,306533 equity) came through in 2009 and the development of the eco-park commenced. The resort was inaugurated in June 2010. The entrance fee has been raised to Php 40 per head, plus a Php 2 ecological fee which goes toward the maintenance of the eco-park and the watershed by volunteers.
“We are strict when it comes to environmental protection,” says Mayor Manzana. “When we lose trees, it affects our river.” So volunteers go around the resort to help maintain the pathways and pick up trash left behind by tourists.
Every step into the park is a livelihood opportunity for people of the town. Tourists go through a modern reception office that sells baskets made by local artisans and paintings by the Panguil-Likha Artists’ Guild. The Guild is made up of 50 young artists, mostly out-of-school youth who have no formal training in art but who paint regularly with materials provided by the LGU.
A 20-meter hanging bridge spans the clear flowing Panguil River leading to the resort proper where a paved one-kilometer path leads to the Ambon-Ambon waterfall. Along the pathway is a small hut where Juanito Aban, a local woodcarver, works on fallen tree branches, carving items to sell in the souvenir shop.
Picnic huts line both sides of the riverbank. Visitors who trek to the falls are assisted by a team of lifeguards wearing bright orange life vests and hard hats, and return riding rubber tubes downriver through cascading waters and ancient boulders. Eleven lifeguards cum tour guides work for an allowance and half of the Php 60 fee they charge per person they guide to the waterfall.
At the center of the resort is a large circular hall designed for wedding receptions and large meetings, its gauze-like curtains swaying in the breeze. It stands amid ancient lanzones trees, right beside a forested mountain where a wide array of birds, monkeys and wildlife thrive. The resort has a police station, shower rooms, and clean first-class rest rooms. On request, food services are provided by local cooks and farmers bring fruits and vegetables that they sell to tourists. There are 16 full-time employees and 40 part-time workers, made up of ecological maintenance staff, lifeguards, tour guides, and masseurs. Massage and acupuncture services are delivered by members of the local “Pisil Club”.
The eco-park has no overnight facilities, although it has opened its doors to overnight camping for boy and girl scouts, and companies needing an inspiring setting for team building activities. Mayor Manzana aims to attract 2.5 million day tourists in 2011.