Last frontiers | Inquirer Opinion
Pinoy Kasi

Last frontiers

How I enjoyed my last few days with sunny weather, with only the occasional showers.

I was in Puerto Princesa, and I knew that even if it does get hit by a typhoon (rare in Palawan), it will not get flooded. That’s still the case for most cities in the Philippines, because, unlike Metro Manila, there’s still enough natural drainage to take in the excess water from the rains. In Metro Manila, almost all the land has buildings, and the drainage systems, natural or human-made, are clogged with garbage.

For more than 30 years now, I have made many trips to Puerto Princesa. I still remember a time when there weren’t even daily flights. This last trip, I was thrilled with the new airport—nice and crisp architecture and lots of space. But I see it already filling up, with several airlines now flying into and out of Puerto Princesa.

I was in Puerto Princesa for a training seminar that brought in health administrators from all over the province. I listened to their stories of how even the most remote islands in the province are now being connected to the rest of the country, and to the world. Just to give one example, there will be flights soon between Clark and San Vicente, a still sleepy town north of Puerto Princesa.


Enjoying the weather, the fresh air and the absence of traffic gridlocks did get me thinking of the country’s last frontiers.

Besides Palawan, I think of some parts of Mindanao, especially Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. Up north, there’s Batanes and the Babuyan Islands. When you think about it, though, every province has its own last frontiers.

We can’t romanticize these places and say they should be kept “pristine.” For example, the health workers in the Palawan workshop I attended had many stories about the medical needs among indigenous communities, including diseases that have long come under control in the rest of the country.

These last frontiers do have many opportunities to pursue alternative development pathways, mainly by looking at, and avoiding, the mistakes made by Manila and older urban centers.


Palawan seems to be on the right track, with strong CSOs or civil society organizations (also called nongovernment organizations or NGOs), some with strong advocacies especially for sustainable development. I think of San Vicente, described in TV documentaries as the next Boracay, and hope its residents learn not to become the next Boracay!

Palawan does have its problems. We know of the political killings, including that of environmental activist Gerry Ortega in 2011. Besides entrenched political “habits,” we see cultural change moving ever so slowly. The much-praised antilittering campaign of former mayor Edward Hagedorn was highly successful; I still remember taking a tricycle with the driver’s young son letting go of a candy wrapper and the driver catching it, and putting it in his pocket. But there has been backsliding in recent years. Nothing close, of course, to the littering we see in the rest of the country.


Just last week, I was in Mariveles, Bataan, and while I was lecturing in a symposium, my kids went off looking for beaches. Upmarket Camaya was fully booked, so they had to look for other beaches. They came away disappointed, without ever getting to swim, because the beaches they visited were all polluted with garbage, all the way into the sea.

That was a reminder to me that it isn’t just foreign tourists who pose risks to our environment. We Filipinos can be even more destructive, always thinking that our garbage—that candy wrapper, for example—is harmless.

Given that tourism is only beginning to take off in the country, we can’t afford to shut down the market even before it has developed. Tourism is still a buyer’s market, meaning there are many other “last frontiers” in the world that can draw tourists, including Filipinos themselves, away from the Philippines.

Let’s not even think, then, of the foreign visitors. Whenever I’m in one of those last frontiers, enjoying the beach or hidden waterfalls, I wonder hard if the next generation in the town will still have those resources. I wonder, too, if enough is said about how an antilittering campaign is not just about beautification but also about protecting the environment—how the garbage from homes and streets end up on the beaches and the seas that are truly our last frontiers.

Maybe, just maybe, these last frontiers could very well develop models for sustainable development that other older cities and towns might want to adopt.

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TAGS: Last Frontier, palawan, Puerto Princesa

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