PNoy Speech at the inauguration of the PPUR as New7Wonders of Nature


Speech
of
His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III
President of the Philippines
At the inauguration of the Puerto Princesa Underground River as one of the New7Wonders of Nature
[Delivered in Pasay City on April 21, 2012]
Good evening. Please sit down.
Excellencies of the Diplomatic Corps present; Secretary Ramon Paje; Secretary Mon Jimenez; Secretary Jesse Robredo; Secretary Sonny Coloma; and Secretaries Patty Licuanan, Joel Rocamora; of course, Mayor Edward Hagedorn; Mayor Tony Calixto; Mayor Alfredo Lim; Mr. Bernard Weber; delegates from the other winning countries of the New7Wonders of Nature; other local government officials present; fellow workers in government; honored guests; mga minamahal ko pong kababayan:
Magandang gabi po sa inyong lahat.
I find myself these days with people asking me a perpetual question. They ask me, “How are you?” And sometimes, I wonder why they have to ask me how I am. And when I look at the mirror, I wonder if they see something I don’t, but perhaps it would help us all to understand exactly where, perhaps, the questions come from. When we entered government service in this present position almost two years ago, we did an inventory of the things that were bequeathed to us. Amongst them, and the discoveries that we’ve had since then, are a lot of shortages like 66,000 classrooms, like 36,000 sitios without electricity, like 40 percent of our population never getting to see a health professional. And the list goes on and on and on. At the early part, we really look forward to Friday, because at least we’d have if not Saturday and Sunday, at least Sunday as a break before we discover the next set of problems. And that is why I am very, very glad to be here for this awarding of the award to Puerto Princesa, to the underground river, and, of course, to the city of Puerto Princesa, province of Palawan, and the Republic of the Philippines. [Applause] I only regret that when they secured the approval for this activity from me, I should’ve looked at the details with a more practiced eye. I thought I was going to go to Puerto Princesa and have at least a day off. Lo and behold, I’m in Pasay City, but of course, Pasay is also a nice city. [Laughter] In 2016, I expect to stay there one week at least. Hopefully, Mayor Hagedorn would still sponsor me by that time.
The Puerto Princesa Underground River is the pride of Palawan, and now, it is the pride of the world, because it has officially been named one of the New7Wonders of Nature.
I am especially proud to be here because this is, after all, a collective success. In the face of tremendous competition—when we got to the finalist round, there were 27 other finalists and millions of other voters from all over the world—we pulled together, and once again put the Philippines on the map. I thank everyone who participated in this effort—from those who led the campaign, but most especially, to those who joined us in sending their text and Internet votes.
Let me commend in particular the main man responsible for us being here today, no other than Mayor Edward Hagedorn, [applause] who campaigned for the PPUR tirelessly, with the support of Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang, Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon Paje, Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo, former Tourism Secretary Bertie Lim, and current Tourism Secretary Mon Jimenez. And again we have proof that success has a lot of fathers, and I’m sure a lot of mothers will be joining them soon. [Laughter] All of them, with your help, led us to this occasion.
This honor reminds us of how truly blessed our country is—and of how it is our task as Filipinos not to take these blessings for granted. We have to act as responsible stewards. And this means valuing our natural resources and ensuring the environmental sustainability of all our development efforts.
I had occasion to be in Baguio, and in one of these visits, I had the chance to visit again the crystal caves. When I was a kid, there were at least three that I visited—I understand there were five crystal caves. There are now exactly one crystal cave, and the crystal is still being formed. It is but sad. The stalactites and stalagmites, god knows where they have gone.
Not long ago, I had the chance to explore the Puerto Princesa Underground River myself. It was an amazing experience. Journeying down a river that winds through a subterranean cave system is like traveling back in time. With walls and caverns that have been shaped by the elements and extraordinary formations of stalactites and stalagmites, the Underground River is a true example of the artistry of nature, when it is preserved and cared for by man.
The River has also helped us understand our Earth a little more. Last year, Italian scientists of the La Venta group discovered in one of the limestone walls of the cave fossils of a sea cow, or a dugong called Sirenia, estimated to be millions of years old.
Words alone cannot do justice to the Underground River—one must experience it firsthand to be able to understand exactly why it is one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. So, please. Please, please, please consider this as an open invitation for everyone to visit, if not revisit, the Puerto Princesa Underground River.
Last year, more than 235,000 tourists saw for themselves the beauty and majesty of the PPUR. And we are hoping that even more of you will arrive, so you can see for yourselves what millions of people around the world voted for, and ultimately realize that, yes, it is indeed more fun in the Philippines.
Tourism has been a low-lying fruit for our economy. It directly creates opportunities for our countrymen and has an immediate, palpable effect on our economy. I am told that for each tourist that sets foot on our shores, one new job is created. Each tourist will have travel agents fixing their itineraries, tour guides who will show them around, and merchants who will, hopefully, be able to sell them our locally made delicacies and handicrafts, and a lot of others who are in the service industry.
So, at the end of the day, the success of the PPUR redounds to the success not just of those from Puerto Princesa, but also of all our countrymen across the nation.
I am happy to tell you, particularly, that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Tourism are working together to market even more natural wonders in our country as ecotourism destinations. I understand that 78 of them have been identified in addition to those that we already have. While they may not have the acclaim and titles that the Puerto Princesa Underground River has gathered, I can guarantee you that they will be equally representative of the beauty and the diversity of our country, and they will undoubtedly boost our tourism industry as well.
But let us remember: Tourism, however, must be nurtured and sustained, and the best way to do that is to take care of sites like the Underground River—not in words but, most importantly, in deeds. Let us protect it, preserve it, and make sure that as more tourists come to visit, the river and its surroundings retain their natural wonder. And the same goes for all our other natural treasures.
Today gives me hope not only for the success of our future tourism efforts, but also for our continued success along the straight and righteous path. If we put in the kind of work that brought us to this day—if government and the private sector continue working together, if we take pride in our country and continue fulfilling our individual roles—no matter how big or small—then we can be sure that our successes will not stop here. Our country will continue to stand strong and progress, guided by the broad light of day.
And before I end, may I also thank Mr. Weber and his organization? It is with some sadness when I was a kid to be given illustrations of the ancient wonders of the world. And, of course, things like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, come to mind, are no longer with us. What we have are the imaginings of various artists as to how they really look like. His organization focus on all of the treasures not only in the Philippines, but the rest of the world. Knowledge means power, and that power will be to preserve all of these sites. And, again, we thank you, Mr. Weber and your organization. Again, let me thank everybody who pulled together to produce, once again, a success for our country and our people.
Thank you. Good evening.