Superficially the high ranking officials of Albay province, including Legaspi City, are in unison about the proposed lighting of Mount Mayon. A closer look however shows nothing is further from the truth.
Legaspi City Mayor Noel Rosal, concurrent chairman of the Bicol Regional Development Council and Elizaldy Co, Ako Bikol Partylist representative, favor the project. But Albay Governo Al Francis Bichara is not that sold out to it to the point of even claiming that due to the opposition and concern that the project will destroy the volcano’s biodiversity, it should be put on hold first.
Even Eduardo “Ed” Laguerta, former resident volcanologist of the Institute of Philippine Volcanology and Seismology pointed out that lighting the volcano which attracts tourists (because of its almost perfect cone), will affect its biodiversity.
It appears then than that the choice is between lighting Mayon for tourism purposes given that the project is a “game changer” and prioritizing biodiversity for environmental purposes.
Mayon is in itself a thing of beauty. It has no need for man-made artificial features just to attract tourists. Besides, a volcano has its own reason for being. Tourists would not come just for the simple purpose of seeing an iconic site duly lighted. That is rather too naive and fact being a mere copy cat.
Once man over exploits a volcano, nature responds violently without any warning. Tinkering with nature just for tourism purposes is a low brainer. It overlooks the fact that people inhabit its surroundings and for that matter make a living from it primarily for agri- industrial ventures.
Tourists come and go. Even the projected operationalization of the Bicol International Airport is no guarantee at all that tourism in the entire region will grow dramatically once Mayon is lighted. At the end of the day, the most important tourist attraction is the people inhabiting an area. Focus therefore should be on the economic plight of the locals.
Incidentally, Mt. Mayon’s foot is found not only in Legaspi City. Parts of it are located in districts of Albay province which are not within the jurisdiction of Legaspi. On this score alone, Bichara has every reason to put on hold the lighting project. Albay includes Legaspi City, the latter being not yet a highly urbanized city.
Geographically and politically Albay includes Legaspi. It is not true on the reverse. As to Ako Bikol Partylist representative Co, lighting only Mayon discriminates upon other tourist sites of the region. The party list is of national constituency, no need for him to be reminded about it.
Without being officious about it, Rosal and Co should rather focus first on the most pressing need of Legaspi and its immediate surroundings—safe drinking water. No matter how beautiful may Mayon may be, eventually tourists will be turned off upon having an unsafe supposed to be potable water.
The bitter lesson of the recent Taal Volcano eruption is too fresh to be treated dismissively. From a distance it looked very beautiful. For this reason tourists trooped and trekked to its very tip. Look what happened. After several decades of slumber, Taal erupted violently and drove away folks making a living out of nature’s gift—the volcano’s fertile soil.
May God forbid, this could happen to Mayon Volcano, a child of nature. Expectedly, tourists will out of curiosity, come to see the outcome, sometimes distribute relief goods, pose for posterity and then go elsewhere.
Left to fend for themselves are the locals. Be gentle with Mayon before Mother Nature vents its ire against the humans for ignoring habitat concerns and giving way to artificiality.