President Aquino Speech at the launch of Puerto Princesa Underground River Campaign

His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III
President of the Philippines
During the official launch of the Puerto Princesa Underground River Campaign
[As delivered at Rizal Hall, MalacaƱan Palace, Manila on June 6, 2011]
Oftentimes, what people overseas read about our country tends to put us in a bad light—our image to those who are not from here has not always been favorable. This is unfortunate, because we are all aware of what this country has to offer, and how beautiful and diverse our archipelago really is. Foreigners tend to miss out on the true beauty of our country—perhaps because of misconception, but also because we may need to pay more attention to how our country’s natural wonders are perceived by outsiders.
Today is an opportunity for us to change their perceptions. Today is an opportunity to put the Philippines under a different and more positive light. Today, we have the chance to raise one of our country’s natural treasures onto the world stage.
The Puerto Princesa Underground River in Palawan, Philippines is composed of a long mountain landscape and a beautiful, breathtaking subterranean river that winds through a cave that has been carved into shape by the giant hand of nature. So it comes as no surprise that the Puerto Princesa Underground River has made it as one of the 28 finalists in the global search for the New 7 Wonders of Nature.
The competition is tough, but if there is a site that should be in the top seven, then it should definitely be the Puerto Princesa Underground River. That is, of course, my unbiased opinion.
Aside from its staggering length and shape, within it lie unique discoveries, which were, until recently, unknown even to those who had frequented the site. For the last several months, an Italian group called La Venta has been conducting studies there, and they have made some stunning discoveries—such as the fossils of sea cows or Sirenia dating back to the Miocene period—roughly 20 million years ago. Aside from being rare fossils previously found only in Java, Indonesia, these findings also emphasize further the sheer historic value of our Underground River and of the country we live in.
The possible benefits of being one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature are enormous, especially for the tourism industry. Last year, we had a total visitor arrival of 3.52 million people, an increase of sixteen percent from 2009. Visitor receipts likewise grew by 11 percent last year, from 2.24 billion US dollars in 2009 to 2.49 billion dollars. Through your continued support, we can further increase tourist arrivals in our country; we can benefit various local industries dependent on tourism and reduce poverty for the many Filipinos who make a living out of making every visit worthwhile for our tourists.
The sites that were finalists and winners of the Seven Man-made Wonders of the World exhibited a drastic increase in the tourism industries of their respective countries. It is expected that the same result will be achieved by the New Seven Wonders of Nature. This means that if the Puerto Princesa Underground River garners a spot in the New 7 Wonders of Nature, the amount of tourists visiting here will obviously skyrocket. New facilities, flights, and tours will be created to meet the demand. New job opportunities will be created for the local community, with the multiplier effect giving rise to even more employment in other industries.
All these will be undertaken carefully and responsibly, without squandering the abundant natural resources we want to preserve in Palawan. We will also naturally develop an increased awareness on the importance of protecting the environment, and ongoing sustainability efforts will continue and grow even stronger.
Suffice it to say, with your help, even more progress is within reach. The Official Declaration of the New 7 Wonders of Nature will be held on November 11. And each and every Filipino in this country has a big role to play for us to win. It is really up to us to vote through text and via the Internet so that we can place the Puerto Princesa Underground River in its rightful throne—among the New 7 Wonders of Nature. In the Philippines, we have no less than 80 million cellphone users, sending nearly two billion text messages every day. All we need is one billion votes—so that is half a day.
A large number of us also have access to the Internet. So I urge everyone to take part in this democracy-in-action on behalf of our own environment. By voting online, or—simpler—by texting PPUR to 2861, we can help the Puerto Princesa Underground River, as well as the Philippines, garner a distinct spot on the international tourist map. I leave the mode of choice to you, but please remember to vote, and vote to the maximum.
While winning a place in the top seven bolsters our sense of national pride, recognition is not the only thing we can gain. We must also remember that the tourists we can potentially attract will redound to thousands of employment opportunities; our success here will ultimately breed success for Filipinos everywhere.
A significant number of people have worked day and night to make this campaign possible, including, and especially, Mayor Edward Hagedorn and Mr. Tony Abaya, so I would like to extend them my gratitude. But let us recognize that they cannot do it alone. This is an undertaking that requires all of us to act.
I urge everyone again—sorry if I’m sounding makulit—I urge everyone to vote to the maximumfor the Puerto Princesa Underground River as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature. Let us show the world our democracy in action, as much as we wanted to show them the daylight that has dawned in our country. Let us make the Puerto Princesa Underground River one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature.
And before I end: I’m really pleased to have joined such eminent personalities such as Mrs. Soliven, who I see before me; Mrs. Cory Quirino; Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte; our idol Mayor Hagedorn, who if he ran for president probably would be here instead of me. The coming together of so many diverse people from so many sectors of our country, including the business sector: Mr. Fred Yao, who, I understand has already initiated direct flights from Shanghai to Puerto Princesa, further boosting our tourism efforts. Of course we also have our other world-class, multinational taipans like Mr. Tony Tan Caktiong, who has demonstrated, who I see in the far end of the room, who has demonstrated another ability by situating himself strategically beside the Ms. Earth winners.
My friends, in closing, this is a situation where we can carve out our future. Voting will take mere seconds. Benefits to our people will last a lifetime.
Thank you. Good day.