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ALPSIDE DOWNED: Siargao-ed (Last of two parts)

GENERAL LUNA, SIARGAO (MindaNews/ 24 Sept) – According to a story in Rappler, up to 1.2 billion pesos had been allocated in 2016 to add and improve infrastructure in the Caraga region, with special focus on tourism facilities in Siargao. Three hundred million of this amount has gone to the construction of a sports complex in Dapa, with the rest to the construction of more roads, bridges and seaports.

Surfing is the foreigner’s lonely sport in the island no more. Foreign surfers more or less “discovered” the potential of Siargao in the early 1980s, but its fame has spread over the years. The Siargao International Surfing Cup is being staged for the 24th year at the end of this month. The World Game Fishing Tournament held annually in Pilar town attracts anglers from all over the world as a world-class event, and more tourists are coming in the wake of Boracay’s six-month closure in April this year.

And where tourists flock, real estate prices are sure to skyrocket. Prime real estate in GL is now speculated to go up as high as P25,000 to P35,000 per square meter, with big players like SM and Henry Sy properties, Shangri-La, the Aboitizes and the Ayala group muscling in on the hotel and resorts spots.

Mr. Lunares, the Italian owner of a coffee shop in GL, says land prices had gone up in the last 2 years, even before the temporary closure of Boracay. A former surfer who married a Filipina from Bacolod, Lunares says he bought his beachfront property in 2015 at P3,000 per square meters; the sale even included a partly-finished building in the area. Now the selling price in his area reaches P25,000 per square meter. “Land prices just went up, it was crazy,” he said.

There are many stories of local Siargaonons who profited from what they thought were their useless beachfront properties. Our van driver says his family sold off their 5-hectare property in Brgy. Osmena for P50 million to the Solaire hotel chain, and from his share he bought a brand-new van for the rental business. “Ito ang katas ng lupa, without this land I could not buy this million-peso vehicle,” he says proudly.

And not only private landowners. Politicians are also cashing in, with the Surigao mayor and governor reported to own or have stakes in high-end resorts built in the island. There is resentment in Surigao City over the perception that local officials with family roots in Siargao island are favoring the development of  Siargao over that of the city. One indication of that, they say, is the development and promotion of Sayak airport, over the Surigao airport in barangay Luna whose runway  remains unrepaired more than a year after the big February 2017 earthquake which ravaged the city.

Feeding off the rising occupancy rates especially in GL, locals are feverishly building homestays to capture the local tourists market and those not inclined to stay in the expensive hotels and resorts. A new homestay good for up to 8 people, for example, can be rented from P3,000 per night. Renters can cook their own meals using produce bought from the local tiangge and usually have more liberties than the resort guests.

A booming surfers island has clear advantages to the local populace. More Siargaonons are being trained and hired as hotels and resorts staff, and this has translated to more money and economic activity for locals.

This demand for local manpower is seen as night falls on the island, and the local discos open and the nightlife begins. “Nowadays, people in GL sleep or rest during the day. But the place comes alive in the night when tourists go out to eat, drink and dance,” says our van driver.

Indeed, the dream of a Bali-like island resort paradise continues in Siargao. But like Bali, that dream will depend on a well-managed and controlled growth that will consider the environment and the scarce resources of an island.

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