PART 1 of 3 for Earth Day 2009 by Leonard
The Philippines is dying.
In true Filipino fashion, this is a melodramatic statement - but it's also a true one. If it makes you feel better, its not only the Philippines. With climate change, global warming and the depletion of fossil fuels, we're pretty much all f*cked.
My Lola used to say with a tear in her eye, "There is no saving the Philippines anymore...". But are there still places to see where the environment hasn't been totally ruined?
Its no secret how polluted the air is in the Motherland. I'm still getting over the usual bronchial infection that inevitably comes with a visit to Metro Manila. You've seen pictures and read about Smokey Mountain in the news - this place was around way before Slumdog Millionaire made trash heaps into Oscar-worthy poverty porn. And if you thought escaping to the province would ensure your lungs some fresh air, then probably you've never ridden a jeepney to the palengke sucking back noxious fumes seemingly straight from a tailpipe spewing black soot straight into your mouth. Yummy.
On one of my recent trips, I thought it would be an interesting experience to visit the top of a volcano. Who can say that they've been to the edge of a volcano? Especially one with steam still rising out of its mouth? Sort of like that movie "Joe Versus the Volcano" except Meg Ryan isn't there. So, we decided to go to Taal Volcano, just near Tagaytay, which is just south of Manila in the province of Batangas.
Getting to Taal involves taking a catamaran from Talisay and across Lake Taal and then riding a horse up the volcano to the viewing deck. I knew that would be an experience, so I was ready for something different. What I wasn't ready for was the trash-strewn path leading up to the viewing deck. I saw everything from Coke cans, plastic bags, cigarette butts and styrofoam -- all leading up this mountain -- a tiny volcano within a volcano.
Upon reaching the top of Taal Volcano, I saw a sign with foreign characters over English letters that read: Property of Jung Ang Interventure Corporation. The mouth of the Taal Volcano had been bought by Korean investors - they were planning to build a spa resort there.
This would explain the huge number of Korean tourists all around me. "The Koreanos tip well" said my horse wrangler, his glinting grin no doubt waxing me in advance for a generous tip of his own from my balikbayan wallet. Other than he and the other local boys and girls leading our very taxed horses up the hill, I'm not sure I saw too many Filipinos up there. Of course, I tipped him well. Bought us Cokes and reminded those guys to throw the bottles out in the trash.
Getting to the top was bittersweet. We had made it high enough to look into the mouth of the Taal Volcano and hang our heads over the side, looking right in to see the steam and sulphur bubbling up in the middle -- but we were surrounded by trash and garbage, not to mention the poor inhabitants of this island who were now relying on us to tip them well. I remember feeling sad and disappointed.
(As a footnote, the Dept of the Environment and Nat. Resources (DENR) ended up revoking the building license for the Spa Resort that Jung Ang was planning to build. Shortly after my visit, the Pulo islanders (Pulo is the actual name of the island where Taal resides) revolted against the Korean firm and had a hand in shutting it down.)
I haven't been back to Taal since and I may never go back there. Let's hope the Pulos realized what they were about to lose. Hope they're picking up all the trash.
(Footnote again: Someone on Twitter let us know that the kids on Pulo Island are doing something to save the environment. Maybe we're turning it around after all -- just let the kids run the country. :) )