Ah, Laguna. That wondrous province steeped in history, filled with irresistible delicacies, and with such varied terrain and geographical features, is certainly a sight to behold for tourists who want to enjoy what the province can offer.

Its natural hot springs remain a strong attraction during summertime and have given rise to a tourism industry that’s been growing year after year. But Laguna is not only known for its hot springs. The name of the province itself, Laguna, means lake in Spanish, given by the Spaniards who noticed that the lands that embrace the Laguna de Bay must aptly be named after the said body of water. And with the lake present, many forms of water bodies exist in the province. The crater lakes of San Pablo, the lake reservoirs of Caliraya and Lumot, and the river tributaries of Pagsanjan, all offer a variety of opportunities for people to enjoy. The moniker “resort province of the Philippines” is not baseless, after all.

TOURISM IN LAGUNA
Laguna’s proximity to the National Capital Region makes it rich in history as well. Archaeological finds in Pila prove that the province has been one of the earliest settlements in the Philippines. It is the birthplace of the most prominent Filipino hero, Jose Rizal, and the Rizal Shrine in Calamba has always hosted students and tourists from all over the country. Historical markers during World War II are also present in the province, especially in the town of Los Baños, where the Japanese commanders Homma and Yamashita were executed.

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The oldest churches from the Spanish colonial period, which date back to the end of the 16th century, can also be found in Laguna. The Catholic Holy Week brings in a multitude of pilgrims taking part in the Visita Iglesia, visiting several churches to pray and hear Mass.

The hydro-electric plant in Kalayaan, Laguna
Families enjoy feeding the carp at the Solenad, Nuvali

(FROM TOP) Laguna Governor Ramil Hernadez; Fun at Enchanted

The crater lakes of San Pablo, the lake reservoirs of Caliraya and Lumot, and the river tributaries of Pagsanjan, all offer a variety of opportunities for people to enjoy.

Aside from the natural and the historical, a variety of activities in the area also attract local tourists. The Enchanted Kingdom in Sta. Rosa is still the country’s most popular and biggest theme park. The Solenad in Nuvali, also in Sta. Rosa, is a shopping and restaurant district that has all the city feels, giving Laguna the balance of the urban and rural appeal.

But what remains as Laguna’s main draw is its natural heritage. “Laguna’s rich natural resources have always been popular all year round,” says Dr. Rosauro Sta. Maria, Chief of Laguna Tourism, Culture, Arts, and Trade Office (LTCATO). His office oversees the tourism policies and activities of Laguna, which is quite the task. He points out the difficulties he encounters in the tourism management of Laguna, “We have about more than 20 municipalities and six cities, and not all have tourism offices; it is difficult, but we manage.”

Dr. Sta. Maria cites the challenge of maintaining the ecotourism sites of Laguna in the age of social media. All it takes nowadays is for someone to go to a pristine natural site, take pictures, and post it on Facebook. As soon as it goes viral, tourists start coming in. “Without a policy or management measures in place, the ecology of the site could be damaged,” he says.

Dr. Sta. Maria, a medical doctor by profession, maintains that there should be a balance between economic benefits and environmental protection when it comes to tourism activities. “Tourism allows the growth of industries in the area, but once the environment has been degraded, what used to be a beautiful destination could easily be ruined,” he stresses.

It is in this context that the Provincial Government of Laguna has been championing the strict implementation of Provincial Ordinance No. 4, series of 2015, “An Ordinance Establishing the Environmental Code of the Province of Laguna.”

THE ENVIRONMENT CODE OF LAGUNA
Laguna provides more than 33 percent of power generation in Luzon, while the Laguna Lake is essential to the water supply of Metro Manila. Thirty percent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings also originate from the province, due to the presence of the province’s 30 industrial parks. Most of the food supply of Metro Manila also comes from Laguna. All these make the impetus to protect Laguna’s natural resources crucial.

The Environment Code is being implemented by the Environmental and Natural Resources Office (ENRO) headed by Engr. David Rubio. “Our office has made the necessary preparation and we are well-equipped to realize our mandate, as it will help improve the lives of the people of Laguna,” he says.

The Environment Code has a big mandate that governs fisheries and aquatic resources, natural resources management and conservation, land use management, protection and improvement of water quality, air quality management, wildlife protection and conservation, forestry and soil conservation, flood control and natural calamities, energy development, conservation and utilization of surface and ground waters, mineral resources management, and waste management.

We empower the local communities to participate in ecotourism governance because at the end of the day, it is them who will benefit more. —Dr. Rosauro Sta. Maria, Chief of Laguna Tourism, Culture, Arts, and Trade Office

(From top) Liliw, Laguna is famous for its footwear; Making uraro (arrowroot) cookies; Under the majestic Ambon-Ambon falls

Ecotourism is an integral part of the code. It cites that Laguna is “home to diverse and abundant natural resources and cultural heritage,” which include “Laguna Lake, Tadlak Lake of Los Baños, Pagsanjan Falls, hot springs of Los Baños and Calamba in the slopes of Mount Makiling, cold springs in the slopes of Mount Banahaw, the Sierra Madre Mountain Rage and the mystical twin mountains of Banahaw and San Cristobal, Taytay Falls in Majayjay, hidden valley springs of Calauan, Seven Lakes of San Pablo,” and many more.

These natural attractions are complemented by Laguna’s rich cultural heritage. And these must all be managed through sustainable tourism practices.

HARNESSING ECOTOURISM POTENTIAL
“Our office (LTCATO) complies with relevant laws such as RA 10066 (Natural Cultural Heritage Conservation Act), PD 1152 (Philippine Environment Code), and RA 9593 or the Tourism Act of 2009. Together with the ENRO, we are tasked to adopt measures to enhance the services and facilities to accommodate local and international visitors to our natural and cultural sites,” says Dr. Sta. Maria. But this tourism infrastructure must be balanced with sustainable ecotourism management strategies.

LTCATO particularly supports community-based ecotourism, or the co-management approach to establishing, operating, maintenance, and visitor marketing of the ecotourism sites. “We empower the local communities to participate in ecotourism governance because at the end of the day, it is them who will benefit more.”

Skilled artisans from Lumban, Laguna
Costales Nature Farms in Majayjay, Laguna

(FROM TOP) One of the oldest churches in the town of Paete; shooting the rapids at Pagsanjan

The Environment Code of Laguna specifically addresses the challenges of managing the Laguna Lake, a very important body of water in the province. According to Dr. Maria Victoria O. Espaldon of the School of Environmental Science and Management of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), real ecotourism can be good for Laguna Lake. Real in the sense that it “preserves the naturalness of the landscape or the seascape, and not about constructing dikes or buildings.”

“The idea of developing Laguna Lake, with ecotourism as a platform, can actually help bring in more jobs because old boats can engage in tours, while people can produce food and handicrafts,” she says.

The same model can be applied to other ecotourism sites. “The focus need not be on constructing hotels, lavish accommodations, and other infrastructure,” says Dr. Sta. Maria.
“What we can highlight to the tourists is the natural activities that they can do to enjoy their surroundings, such as trekking, backpacking, camping, mountain biking, birding, photo safari, and other relevant activities.”

This holds true for the Mt. Makiling Forest Reserve, a mainstay in the Laguna tourist map and often the destination of educational trips for students. Under the management of the UPLB, the mountain has been utilized to promote sound environmental practices that relate to tourism activities. The Makiling Botanical Garden, for example, has been receiving tourists and guests for decades now, and still maintains its rich biodiversity despite the influx of visitors every day. It also helps that the forest reserve is the laboratory of the university’s College of Forestry and Natural Resources, the country’s premier educational institution for forestry.

FOLLOWING LAGUNA’S LEAD IN ECOTOURISM
Other provinces should follow Laguna’s model of promoting sustainable ecotourism activities through the Environment Code. The detailed provincial ordinance will further enable relevant offices mandated to protect the environment while promoting different industries of the province such as tourism.

Laguna Governor Ramil Hernandez believes that the Environment Code of the province will ensure the balance of economic development and environmental protection and sustainability in Laguna. “It is our hope that the natural resources and environment of Laguna will be protected and preserved,” he says, “and with the thorough implementation of the code, we will make sure those who will not follow it will face the corresponding penalties.” – LEE P. CANDELARIA

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