Benguet town transforms ‘marijuana lairs’ into tourist sites

BAGUIO CITY–What used to be regular visits from law enforcers to destroy marijuana plants, Kapangan town in Benguet now get tourists to visit the place.
The municipal government of Kapangan has slowly transf
ormed the sleepy town into a tourist attraction.
“We are seeing a shift with tourists now coming to our town especially with the Badi [Badbadi] falls gaining popularity,” Mayor Manny Fermin told Philippine News Agency (PNA) on Thursday.

Badi falls is located in Barangay Sagubo, one of the three villages identified in the past where high-grade marijuana plants were clandestinely grown, some uprooted and destroyed on-site or intercepted by law enforcers during operations outside the town

The falls is around 75-feet high waterfalls in the center of a virgin forest that drops on a natural pool of fresh clean water. It is around two hours walk from the road with spelunkers who need to walk down rocks with using both legs and arms to keep themselves from falling.

It is regularly visited by tourists from different parts of the country,
especially during the summer.
The village also has also Camp Utopia located some 43 kilometers from the town proper.
Camp Utopia played a role in the history serving as a camp and infirmary of the 66th Infantry of the United States Armed Forces in the Philippines- Northern Luzon (USAFIP-NL) during World War II.

Fermin said villagers depend on marijuana cultivation as a source of income.

“Talagang walang community na dependent sa marijuana talagang zero (There is no community that is depended on marijuana now) but the change was started years back and did not happen overnight,” said Fermin, who was still the Sangguniang Kabataan chairman when the transformation happened in 2002.

Led by then-Mayor Rogelio Leon, Barangay Sagubo was the focus of the “change of a lifestyle” project of the town. The other two villages were Gadang and Beling-belis.

“Now, they [Sagubo] are the highlight of Kapangan in terms of tourism,” Fermin said.

Kapangan is about one and a half hours from Benguet capital town La Trinidad via the Halsema road in Tublay town.
Other tourist attractions in the town include the Amburayan River, a trek at Mount Dakiwagan or popularly known as Santa Claus mountain- that looks like the Christmas icon with its beard, the Tampan Rice Terraces, Longog Cave which is only 10-minutes going down to the cave’s entrance from the road and the burial caves in Barangay Pungayan.

Fermin said the cultural museum and the war veteran museum are both continuously being developed, which are both favorites of cultural exchange visits of students who go to Kapangan.

“We want the public to know the rich history of Kapangan and its participation during the war,” Fermin said.

“This is one way of promoting and conserving our place. We continue to hope that the people of our town will have as an eye-opener the attractions we promote showing our rich culture and tradition,” he said.
Fermin said for several decades, Kapangan carried the tag as marijuana producer.

“Every month they (villages) are being monitored, actual monitoring with the law enforcers visiting and fortunately, they are clear,” he said.
He also thanked President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs, prompting all
stakeholders in the town to fight the marijuana cultivation.
Col. Elmer Ragay, Benguet provincial director, confirmed Fermin’s claim, saying Kapangan maintains its drug cleared status.
“There is no resurgence since the time I was assigned in September and based on eradication operation, it is showing a negative result,” Ragay said.
“The people [in Kapangan] are the ones shying away from planting [marijuana],” he added.
Fermin said in Barangay Sagubo, residents are now producing muscovado sugar with the help of the municipal government in partnership with the Departments of Labor and Employment and Trade and Industry.
In Gadang, on the other hand, residents have flower production as their livelihood and the other villages mostly in sayote and rice production, Fermin added.
Meanwhile, Fermin said they have allocated around PHP5 million for the opening of a farm-to-market road in Barangay Tawang, which is near the border of Kibungan town.
“Compared before, now is better, they have roads and every year the villages allot funds as identified by the barangay council as priorities,” Fermin said. (PNA)


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