IN far-away Gigaquit in Surigao del Norte, a program is now in place to boost the 4th class municipality’s tourism prospects as a way forward for the poor coastal community. Such a program may provide other similar communities all over the country the template to level up their income stream while at the same time battling climate change and revving up economic growth.
It is a tough call that Mayor Chandru Tumulak Bonite has envisioned for the municipality, a legacy he wants to bequeath his constituents, after mulling over the natural calamities that have visited the place, notably of Supertyphoon Odette in December 2021, which led him to pursue a win-win formula: to transform tourism sites that have been destroyed such as Puyawan Falls into notable ecotourism places.
A fortnight ago, Mayor Bonite paid a visit to ALC Group Chairman D. Edgard A. Cabangon and unveiled his tourism project for the 4th class municipality, and so off we went to Gigaquit (pronounced Higakit) this week to see first-hand the devastation that Odette brought on Puyawan Falls. The mayor showed us the structures that were destroyed, such as footbridges, and told us what he intends to do.
Puyawan Falls, whose development will also benefit a community of indigenous people near the place, will become host to several swimming sites and campsites, which the municipality intends to establish to lure surfing enthusiasts even from Siargao for them “to have a welcome change,” as the mayor said.
Gigaquit has what it takes to become a huge hit for tourists, much like that of Siargao, noted for its surfing come-on. It has, however, other ecotourism overtures that we believe can transform it into a first-class municipality. Mayor Bonite hoped this can be accomplished in no time. He is passionate in telling us his plans that include constructing the last mile for a boardwalk along the coast. The boardwalk, which will be host to restaurants, will also serve as a natural dike from sea surges.
The municipality is bent on pushing forward its ecotourism potential, what with its host of natural wonders such as a mangrove forest with 17 species that include nipa (from where the famed Gigaquit Rhum comes from), Baoy River and other rivers, a marine sanctuary where giant clams abound, plus a diversity of coral fish species, and a mangrove-lined river with a fork that empties into the sea.
Recently, Gigaquit was adjudged the second runner-up in the National Search for Outstanding Coastal Community that MMK or Malinis at Masaganang Karagatan launched. For now, the focus of the municipality is to conduct cleanups in partnership with concerned government agencies.
In an assessment done by the DENR, Gigaquit was found to have 450 hectares of mangrove that is home to various species, and that has a potential for the ecotourism market. The potential for tourism dollars can be easily seen in the poor community of about 22,000 residents.
According to Suginli Express program host Emil Canda, the administration of Mayor Bonite is serious in seeing through the change in the economic environment of Gigaquit. In fact, he opted to go back to the municipality after 20 years in the advertising business in Manila, to be part of the good governance model of Mayor Bonite. Two others we interviewed working at the municipality also are balik-Gigaquit citizens.
We believe in the potential of Gigaquit as a tourism haven and we were fortunate enough to have made the visit. The last segment of our tour with the mayor floored us in disbelief. It was a river ride along the mangrove forest where we were treated to 25 minutes of hovercraft ride along a circuitous route of miles and miles of mangrove.
During our hovercraft ride, Mayor Bonite passionately talked of having kayaking, floating cottages, water tubing, jet-ski offering, and restaurants along the mangrove-lined river that can rival the famed Loboc River of Bohol. Prior to the river ride, Mayor Bonite spoke glowingly of the last place that he intended to show to us to bolster his administration’s tourism program. And boy! How right he was. It was a fantastic experience and with the two rainbows that showed up during the ride, his words rang in my mind: “Lucky ride.”