Kawasan Falls, a favorite tourist site in Badian town, is closed to visitors for a week.
Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia made good her warning to demolish illegal structures during a site inspection yesterday when she swung a hammer at the concrete foundation of one of the kiosks by the falls.
Capitol employes moved in to remove outdoor benches and tables.
Her April 15 deadline to remove illegal structures was questioned by resort owner Willy Saldua, who asked if she had court order to destroy the structures.
An irked governor said it was Saluda and other resort owners who had no business or mayor’s permit to operate in the area.
Garcia declared the place closed to tourists for a week to give time for the demolition of structures like concrete foundations and cottages she said were examples of “crass commercialism” that destroy the natural beauty of the falls.
Kawasan Falls features water falls on three levels and a large pool, where visitors can swim, ride rafts or relax in outdoor kiosks.
The nature spot has been a favorite recreation site for decades, attracting both local residents and some foreign tourists. Over the years, crowding and the rise of permanent structures have diminished its appeal.
Garcia held a dialogue yesterday with members of the Kawasan Nature Park Multi-Purpose Cooperative and some commercial establishment owners in Badian, 97 kilometers southwest of Cebu City.
She got angrier when Saldua insisted that he was the one who mounted natural stones and reclaimed portions of the river to put up a kiosk and four cottages.
Saldua owns Willy’s and The Kawasan Falls facility that offers room accommodations, cottages and the use of rafts and life vests near the first level of the falls.
“Wala man na giguba, gidugangan ra ug bato. (I did not destroy it, I just added stones in the area),”said Saluda.
The governor bristled: “Ayaw ko ug pilosopoha dinha ha. Gidugangan ni nimo pero dili ni bato – semento. Unsa man ang semento, bato?” (Don’t get smart alecky with me. You added cement, not rocks. What is this cement – stone?”)
When the resort owner, who is in his 70s, said he personally piled the rocks and later added cement when he was feeling ill, the governor waved him off.
“Don’t use your being sickly as an excuse, because you’ve been using the same excuse for a long time,” she said in Cebuano.
When the issue of a court order was brought up, the governor turned to Badian Mayor Robburt Librando and criticized what she called a “yaga-yaga” (lousy) operation by the municipal government in allowing these businesses to operate without a permit.
Saldua then walked out, complaining of feeling chest pains.
In an interview before Garcia’s arrival, Myrna Divinagracia, chairperson of the Kawasan Nature Park Multi-purpose Cooperative, told CEBU DAILY NEWS Saldua was the one who “destroyed” the area by building kiosks and cottages on the river.
She said Saldua allegedly holds a land title for the area, giving him the advantage of putting up commercial structures without objection from local residents.
“Kay wala man daw nibadlong niya sa una, mao nga iya nang gipadayon ang pagpatukod ana,” said Divinagracia. (No one called his attention or stopped him before so he just continued to build.)
Al Orolfo, regional director for Protected Areas and Wildlife and Coastal Management of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), told reporters he would check the claim that Saldua has a land title.
“A river is part of the public domain including a 20-meter easement,” he said.
Orolfo said DENR 7 officials will meet on April 18 to tackle the matter and check if Environmental Compliance Certificates (ECC) were issued to the occupants.
He said they will submit the findings and report to Gov. Garcia after that meeting.
At least 15 men from the Provincial Engineering Office started removing tables and chairs in the kiosks.
Some foreigners, who were in the area swimming were advised to leave.
Saldua had to close shop as well as the cooperative which owns a canteen and lodging rooms in a two-storey building.
Mayor Librando told reporters operators earn P50,000 to P60,000 a month, and increases to P70,000 during peak season.
The governor ordered the Cebu Provincial Police Office (CPPO) under Sr. Supt. Patrocinio Commendador to field policemen while the demolition continues.
In a separate interview, Regional Director Rowena Montecillo of the Department of Tourism said she would send out an advisory to travel and tour operators about the temporary shutdown today.
“We support her (Governor Garcia’s) decision to close the area for a week to give time fore the demolition team. It’s better to sacrifice a week to remove those man-made structures than just leave them at the expense of the Kawasan Falls, which is among our most sought after attractions,” said Montecillo.
While some tour operators with itineraries to the Kawasan Falls will be affected, Montecillo said the DOT is sure they will support the decision in line with the thrust of the national government to encourage environment-friendly tourism. /Carmel Loise Matus, Correspondent with a report from Reporter Aileen Garcia Yap