Monday, March 9, 2009

New Hope

Over a month ago, I found myself in the small coastal village of Bretania which belongs to the municipality of San Agustin. This tiny fishing community is just some 23 kilometers north of Lianga and happens to be located almost right in the middle of the eastern edge of the province of Surigao del Sur facing the vast breadth of the Pacific Ocean.

In the past I had written about this village’s fabled islets, those green clumps of rock, wild vegetation and pristine, white sand that lay scattered like emeralds amidst the tropical blue of its clear coastal waters. I had also written about their matchless beauty and enormous tourism potential.

But I also noted then the somewhat confused and timid, halfhearted attempts by the area’s local government to take advantage of the islets' natural beauty and magnetic attraction for both local and foreign visitors and how these efforts have not really amounted to anything significant so far. I have also written about how the local community remains to this day largely impoverished and undeveloped despite the magnificent beauty of the natural treasures it alone possesses.

Last January 31, Manuel Alameda, the municipal mayor of San Agustin, called a meeting of the many individuals and families that have ownership claims and titles to the residential and agricultural lots that comprise the major part of the land area of the village of Bretania that is the subject of infrastructure development as part of the much delayed and protracted effort to turn the area into a major tourism destination in that part of Mindanao.

The mayor proposed the construction of a full-width, circumferential access road skirting the western edge of the village which would connect it to the main barangay road to its sister village of Salvacion. The new road would allow full and convenient access to Bretania from the main highway and would replace the narrow, meandering dirt path that weaves right through the middle of the village and which nowadays is the only means by which outsiders can get into the barrio.

The new road whose construction is being funded from local government funds is part of a long-term tourism development plan currently under review by both the municipal officials of San Agustin and the barangay officials of Bretania. It has been suggested, in fact, that the latter take a major role in the review of the development plans since the future of their village will depend largely on the successful implementation of the final version of the plans.

There is a great degree of cautious optimism generated among the local villagers and landowners as a result of the Jan. 31 consultative meeting. Many of those who were present at the meeting have expressed their willingness to work together and cooperate with local government officials in their efforts to make Bretania the next major tourism destination in their part of the country.

But one cannot silence the faint yet persistent doubts that linger in the minds of the many who were there that day and who have attended similar and like meetings in the past. Too much has already been said and promised about Bretania and its tourism potential in the past, too much said and very little done.

There is a vast reservoir of good will and cooperation among landowners and local people that those who truly want the best for this coastal village can tap into. But that can dry up in a flash and disappear if these same people start feeling they are already being used and abused for other purposes and interests that have nothing to do with the development of Bretania and the improvement of the welfare of its people.

Bretania and its residents are people desperately in need of a viable and workable future for themselves and their children. It’s much touted tourism potential is music to their ears and a balm for their tired spirits. What remains is to see the intangible become reality and the potential become actual fact.

That is what it exactly remains to be seen.

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