LEGAZPI CITY, 10June2014 (PNA) -– Every 13th of May, devotees and pilgrims from all over the country and abroad flock to the shrine of Black Nazarene in Capalonga, Camarines Norte, to pay homage to the image on His feast day.
The image is said to be miraculous and its feast is particularly celebrated by Chinese businessmen, who pay annual homage and ask for long life and good fortune.
This makes Capalonga, a third class municipality at the outskirt of Camarines Norte occupied by a population of 31,299 people based on the 2010 survey of the National Statistics Office (NSO), an important place that the Department of Tourism (DOT) wants to be fully developed into one of Bicol’s key tourist destinations.
DOT Regional Director Maria Ong-Ravanilla based here on Tuesday said Capalonga, which takes three hours to reach via passenger jeepneys from Daet — Camarines Norte’s provincial capital, may be a far away town from the heart of Bicol but a regular tourists and visitors drawer.
“Devotees and pilgrims, you know, are not bothered by distance in expressing their faith, thus, Capalonga’s shrine of the Black Nazarene is being swarmed by thousands believers of its miracles,” she said.
In the tourism point of view, Ravanilla said, the DOT wants this gain of the municipality maximized by way of helping the local government improve the facilities it offers for the comfort and convenience of visitors and tourists.
Towards this end, the agency has allocated this year an amount of P7.3 million for Capalonga under the government’s Grassroots Participatory Budgeting Process (GPBP).
Formerly known as the Bottom Up Budgeting (BuB), the GPBP being applied by the administration of President Benigno Aquino III is a somewhat modern approach to planning in the use of government’s financial resources that is different from the usual top-down budgeting where the high-level executives make all the decisions in fund dispensations.
It seeks to make the national budget more responsive to local needs, provide incentives for local good governance, strengthen the devolution of basic services delivery, create a conducive environment for people’s participation and generate demand for good governance at the local level, according to Ravanilla.
The P7.3-million DOT GPBP allocation, she said, has been provided by the Capalonga LGU with a 15-percent counterpart so that the total amount is sufficient enough for some of its immediate tourism development projects such as the construction of a baywalk on its shoreline, which offers a panoramic view of of the Philippine Sea.
Out of the fund, the LGU will also put up floating cottages in Sabong-sabong reef, an eco-tourism site loved by visitors for its crystal-clear water and richness in marine life.
As additional tourism support facilities, the municipal government, according to Ravanilla, is also reviving the operation of its zipline and water rides, among other come-ons to attract more tourists.
She said DOT is also supporting efforts of the Capalonga government to attract investors for the establishment of hotels and other tourism support ventures in the locality.
Apart from the Black Nazarene, tourists are also attracted by the town’s conduct of Palong Festival as a prelude to its town fiesta.
Taking place from May 10-12, the festival is highlighted by colorful street dancing and agro-huge industrial fair which express the local folks’ gratitude for their town’s name’s etymology, and signify the abundance of “palong manok” (rooster’s comb) plants in the locality.
These wild plants that bear beautiful red flowers during summer, especially in the month of May, are found only in Capalonga.
Apart from its importance to the region’s tourism industry, Capalonga is also being given attention by the government for the diverse ecology within its vast watershed forest reservation area that is vital to Camarines Norte’s household and irrigation water supplies.
The Capalonga Watershed Forest Reserve that occupies a 762-hectare area in the municipality, according to the regional office here of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), is on the brink of biodiversity exhaustion partly due to widespread agricultural activities like “kaingin” (slash and burn) farming that are destructive to its natural properties.
The DENR has formulated a rehabilitation plan for this forest reserve following a recent warning from the agency’s Regional National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Review Committee over the disestablishment of Capalonga watershed which would be precarious, both to the community and the conservation efforts being pushed by the government.
A report of the Protected Areas Wildlife Division (PAWD) of the DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) said the inventory of wildlife resources in Capalonga Watershed revealed that flora and fauna are observed to be minimal due to a disturbed ecosystem brought about by agricultural activities.
Capalonga is among the 17 watershed forest reserves under the NIPAS that are vital to the biodiversity of Bicol and classified into eight categories such as Strict Natural Reserve, Natural Park, Natural Monument, Wildlife Sanctuary, Protected Landscape and Seascape, Resource Reserve, Natural Bionic Area and other categories as established by law, conventions or international agreements, according to the DENR.
The strengthening of tourism in the area into providing employment to the local labor force will help in the conservation of this forest reserve as those involved in man-made forest degradation will be given alternative sources of income, Ravanilla added. (PNA)