Balut Island: The Tourism Gem of Davao Occidental

I first heard of Balut Island when my father shared stories of pirates, manglumay, and mangdautay. He had a backward perception of the place and did not want me to go there. At that time, I kind of believe his stories since he was a well-traveled man in Mindanao. But his “exoticized” stories of the island helped intensify my desire to go there. After a long wait, I finally visited the island, on April 6-9, 2018, and somehow experienced life there.

Sarangani (which comprises of Balut and Sarangani Islands as well as Olanivan islet) is the tourism gem of Davao Occidental. Moreover, Davao Occidental is new and considered as one of the fastest-growing provinces in the Philippines. The province has many plans for the municipality to help boost their economic activity. 

Many people became curious about this volcanic island and want to see its beauty with their own eyes. But the problem is that the island is not yet ready for tourism. For example, there is a limited number of vessels to cater to tourists who would like to visit the island. Their tourism master plan has not yet finished. And the locals are not well prepared for tourist activities in their place. 

When we visited the Municipality of Sarangani, I got the chance to meet Jai Cawa, their new tourism officer. In the course of our conversation, I asked Jai about tourism-related issues, specifically the overpriced controversy that went viral online, concerning tour operators and pambot operators. As she admitted, her place is not yet ready and there are so many things to fix. For example, the importance of community preparation and consultation, standardize pricing, and training for tourism personnel like a tour guide, as well as the resistance of the locals for tourism-related activities in their community. The deterioration of marine life also contributes to these concerns. A friend of mine, who works in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), shared her concern when she visited the municipality. As she said:

   “Before we went to the island, I have little idea about the place. Balut island is situated in a suitable location – far from the mainland, has long travel time, and it is hard to reach as well as quite risky. But it is all worth it. As I have expected, the place is very beautiful. But I was concerned that the people might feel awkward about us, as tourists that visited to their place. Thank God! I was wrong and we enjoyed our trip there. We have lots of activities like mountain climbing, island hopping and caving. As a DENR personnel, I can’t help but take the initiative to check whether a destination has improper waste management or damage coral reefs. As I have experienced all of those activities, I suggested that the municipality should have an extensive study of their place before it would open to the public. LGU Sarangani can collaborate with the academe, DENR, and other concerned agencies. It should have policies that help protect and preserve their natural assets. In short, the place is not yet ready.” 

We have the same concern about the place. I believe LGU Sarangani is aware of these concerns. Mayor Virginia Cawa also expressed that she wants her municipality to be as natural as it is. No big infrastructure to be constructed. No flamboyant resorts. She wants to keep it as laidback as it is. 

This year, they are drafting their tourism master plan. This plan will help with the preparation of the place to be one of the prime destinations of the south. We hope that the upcoming projects and programs for the municipality will be truly beneficial for the locals of the islands. Their municipality has so much to offer. If there are no proper management and protection of their best assets, it will transform this paradise into another ruined destination.