People's CornerLetter to the EditorBalanan, what happened to you?

Balanan, what happened to you?

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Years ago, friends and family visited Lake Balanan on the hills of Siaton when Emilio “Dodo” Macias and George Arnaiz, governors of Negros Oriental, took charge of putting the out-of-the-way lake on the tourist circuit.

The long winding road to Balanan was narrow even then, with many sections paved, others not — a typical phenomenon here in Negros Oriental.

A pedicab driver once explained to me this quirky phenomenon when I asked why roads are often built this way: The unpaved sections are areas whose residents belong to the “wrong colour”, he said.

In my naivety, I asked why one had to have the “right colour” to qualify for having one’s section paved? And what was this colour?

He laughed out load, and said: The unpaved sections meant that the people living along that stretch did not vote for the political party that eventually won. Tua sila sa pikas.

Wow! Is that how it truly works here?

During the couple of visits we made to Lake Balanan then, the unpaved sections did not really pose a driving challenge, nor were they a deterrent, as they were well-maintained and rut-free.

But something happened along the way. Fast forward to 2024.

Remembering the beauty of the place, a number of us decided to visit Lake Balanan once again, and discovered, with fear in our hearts, that driving to the lake is now a hazardous and nerve-wracking experience. In fact, had there been an area in the narrow stretch to turn around, we would have turned back.

The same paved-unpaved phenomenon still exists but with a great difference. Now, the unpaved sections are not even maintained; deep ruts are everywhere, boulders the size of coconuts, basketballs, fully inflated balloons litter all stretches.

Our vehicle, despite being a heavy pickup truck, rocked back and forth, driving only at approximately 10-15 kph. It was impossible to go faster especially in sections overlooking steep slopes.  One had to have nerves of steel to get through that ordeal. I’m just glad I wasn’t the driver.

When we finally got to Lake Balanan, we were terribly disappointed.

Shortly after entering the resort, we saw that the small man-made swimming pool fed with water from the lake was now black, dirty, and uninviting. The roof of the main hall where one can have a meal is now dotted with many holes.The lake has debris floating on its waters. The staircase to the waterfalls at the far end of the lake was washed away over a year ago, preventing a much-desired activity (swimming) for tourists.Many sections of the area are in disrepair, grungy, and unappealing.

Whatever happened to you, Balanan?

Lack of government care is  what may have happened.

The only funding the government provides is for projects — to build new structures or to repair old structures.

But all the projects remain unfinished. The kitchen has been repaired but not finished, and thus, unusable.  Why is this?

There is no local government funding for operational expenses.

All expenses incurred are shouldered by monies that come from the visitors, tourists: entrance fees, food and drinks from the restaurant, banca rentals, boatmen/tour guides.

What comes in is barely enough to cover expenses, and there are months when the staff are faced with a deficit.  When this occurs, the staff are not even able to receive their monthly P4,000 honorarium.

The injustice of it is that they work long hours, especially when visitors are booked in  the hotel for an overnight stay.  Needless to say, staff benefits like SSS and PhilHealth are just in their dreams.

When there is a small profit form their incomes, it cannot be put toward the next month’s operating budget; it can only be deposited in the bank with eventual distribution to a number of government agencies.

There definitely is not enough to have more staff ensure that nature is kept clean, not enough to give the place the professional look it needs to warrant being a tourist destination.

Such a lost opportunity from years ago under Governors Macias and Arnaiz when Lake Balanan was a talked-about tourist destination.  The place was packed with tourists then.  But not anymore.

The provincial government of Negros Oriental recently vowed to double the number of tourist arrivals this year, as it embarks on an aggressive tourism campaign. In this case, would it not make sense that attention a.k.a. financial funding be given to Lake Balanan again so it can be returned to its position as a preferred tourist destination in the south?

Its currently tarnished beauty calls out for help. As does the road.

 

Diana Banogon-Bugeya (She/Her)

DianaBugeya@gmail.com

 

 

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