THE picturesque province of Bohol was almost written off from the tourism map in 2013, after the devastation caused by a 7.3-magnitude earthquake.
The city and its 12 municipalities were damaged by the temblor, which left over 200 people dead and a thousand injured. The earthquake made the island’s seabeds rise, slightly damaging the iconic chocolate hills, and partially, or totally, ruined many centuries-old churches.
Three years later, however, the number of Bohol tourists eclipsed the 1 million mark in 2016, as per figures from the Department of Tourism—up 40 percent, from 2015’s record of 602,000 visitors (73 percent local and 26 percent foreign). The province has recovered tremendously—and its growth continue to accelerate.
By midyear 2018 the P7.8-billion New Bohol (Panglao) airport will open Bohol to the world. Hopefully, this will add at least 50-percent more tourists to the island-province.
According to National Economic and Development Authority Director General Ernesto M. Pernia, the Department of Transportation and Communications (implementing agency) and the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Center are still in discussion whether the “maintenance and operation” of the airport facilities will be retained under the PPP program.
Recent pronouncements seem to indicate the four other pending regional international airports in Bacolod, Cagayan de Oro City and Davao will be pulled out of the PPP ambit and be funded under the General Appropriations Act, or the National Budget and the Official Development Assistance from Japan International Cooperation Agency, instead.
The 2.5-kilometer runway and the two-story airport terminal have the potential to bring in 800,000 visitors per year. Bohol is expected to attract international chains of hotels and resorts to serve the upsurge of tourist arrivals.
On June 23 Phililline Airline (PAL) opened its first daily flight direct and seamless from Incheon Airport in Seoul, South Korea to Bohol. This will bring in more Koreans, the leading visitors to the island paradise. PAL also recently opened its Tagbilaran-Cebu daily flights to complement the over 10 fast-craft ferries plying the two islands.
PAL President Jaime Bautista said Bohol could become a new tourism hub—bringing Korean tourists to nearby destinations, like Cebu, Negros and Siquijor.
Earlier civilian vigilance, in cooperation with the military, swiftly quelled an attempt by members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) to disrupt the consultative meeting in Bohol for the 10-member Asean.
If successfully carried out, the Bohol plan of the terrorists would have created a new frontier of violence ahead of the Marawi City siege.
Luckily, the plan was nipped in the bud. The swift resolution of the potential conflict drew praises from the operations group of the Philippine National Police and the Department of Trade and Industry for making the Asean Meet trouble-free and to the “satisfaction of all the delegates”.
The “Bohol template” has been hailed by the military as a model for civilian-military cooperation in handling terrorist threats. Bohol is now, more than ever, a safer destination for all.
In fact, the government had even strengthened the Barangay Intelligence Network and the Countryside Development Program-Power Purok Movement to install a quick-reaction scheme to quell suspicious movements of goods and persons in every locality.
Recall that it was the civilian volunteers who first exposed the presence of ASG men with high-powered firearms near the Inabanga River, that exposed the terror group’s bad intentions to authorities.
Bohol, alongside Boracay and Palawan, has been the perennial “first choice” among tourists, especially among Asian tourists, like the Chinese, Koreans and the Japanese.
Most Asian countries are very familiar with the terrain of our archipelago of 7,000 islands, and do not readily issue negative travel advisories against the Philippines.
With the province’s bountiful gifts of nature, Bohol is looking forward to a new blooming of the R and R (rest and recreation) trade with the new points of entry to the province, and the much-improved security and safety it now provides to visitors after promptly and successfully repelling the enemies of the state that could have driven local and foreign visitors away.
Bingo Dejaresco, a former banker, is a financial consultant and media practitioner. A Life Member of Finex, he is the chairman of both the Professional Development and Broadcast Media committees.
His views here, however, are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of Finex.