When Popularity Turns Dirty: Environmental challenges in Puncak Tanawan

Puncak Tanawan is a popular hiking site in Negros Oriental. It is said to be the highest peak in Sibulan, located specifically in Brgy. Balugo. According to their official Facebook page, Puncak Tanawan Inc., their mission is to “develop an attraction not only to entice visitors but also to raise awareness where visitors can see the beauty of nature.”

The pathway or trail leading to Puncak Tanawan’s peak. Photo by Javan Poblador.

However, the growing popularity of Puncak Tanawan among tourists and hikers has taken its toll on the environment.

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Garbage accumulation

The increased number of visitors in Puncak has caught the attention of several residents who live nearby.

Larry Colidago, a motorcycle driver who has regularly taken visitors and hikers to the peak for the last five years, has noticed the substantial increase in visitors and environmental damage. Because aside from the accumulation of garbage, subtle damages to the trees have also been found at the Puncak peak.

“Daghan jud na sila [turista]. Kanang four hundred hikers naa gud na sila sa pag sikat sa Tanawan. Kadtong mga reklamo sa una na patyon ang kahoy, tinuod jud na siya,” said Colidago. He also added that an increase in visitors or hikers is beneficial to the motorists because it adds to their daily income.

(There are many tourists. 400 hikers were present when Tanawan first became popular. There was once a complaint about trees being destroyed. Those complaints were true.)

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Emma Tuting, a worker in La Preza, who has been living in the vicinity of Puncak for more than 20 years, revealed her recent observations on the trail leading to the Puncak peak over the past couple of months:

“Kadtong niagi nga bulan, baling daghana nilang ni-angat sa bukid ug baling daghana nang basura. Ang dalan na gani kay [daghan] nag basura,” Emma shared.

(Months ago, so many people hiked to the peak and a lot of garbage was left. Even the pathways had a lot of garbage.)

Potential commercialization

When asked about the idea of making Puncak a commercial tourist spot, Elvis Drilon, a worker from the Balugo, Sibulan fire station said, “Dakog katabang [ang pag commercialize] sa lungsod, ekonomiya, ug income kay naa may bahin ang lungsod hasta ang barangay kung ma commercialize.”

(Commercialization will be of great help in terms of economy and income because a percentage of what is earned will go to the city and the barangay.)

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However, if Puncak does become commercialized, there will be disadvantages in terms of waste management because the people would have to secure proper places for their waste, a view held by Frederick Ramos of the Balugo, Sibulan fire station. In addition, safety measures must also be implemented for emergency situations like floods and fire.

Assurances

Dionela Gatual, a Barangay councilor living near Puncak Tanawan, assured that the place is being properly maintained. She mentioned that the owners no longer allow large numbers of people to enter the peak, citing a previous incident where almost 3,000 hikers climbed collectively.

Gatual is also in favor of Puncak Tanawan becoming commercialized if hikers are disciplined and if garbage is properly disposed of. She said it will also greatly help the community as it will lead to the town’s development, with roads properly fixed with funds from the government.

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“Para nako, ma lipay ko kung mu click jud na siya kay una sa tanan, mag dala nag dungog sa atong barangay. Ikaduha, ang tourism, mu put up jud siyag dakong capital. Chada jud na…Basta lang ma maintain nila ang mga basura…among gi hangyo na ang inyong mga basura ayaw lang pud ninyo ipasagad ug labay bisan asa.” Gatual commented.

(In my view, I’ll be happy if Puncak becomes popular to the public because, firstly, our barangay will become a word-of-mouth. Secondly, tourism can put up a large capital, and that would be nice if they can properly dispose of the waste. We’re asking people to pick up after their trash instead of just throwing it anywhere.)

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As Puncak Tanawan continues to gain popularity, the accumulation of garbage in the area poses threats to the community. After all, sustainable tourism for Puncak—or for other tourist attractions—starts with taking responsibility for one’s trash.

As the old saying goes, “Basura mo, ligpit mo.”

The Association of Young Environmental Journalists (AYEJ) is a youth-led environmental news network based in Dumaguete City that aims to increase the conversation on the protection, preservation, and conservation of the earth through environmental news and feature stories.

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