STA. CRUZ, Laguna – The Laguna Tourism, Culture, Arts and Trade Office (LTCATO) is currently seeking clarification from the Commission on Audit (COA) as to whether spending on religious and faith-based tourism events is still allowable given a policy shift favoring nature and eco-tourism.
Dr. Rosauro A. Sta. Maria Jr. told Philippines News Agency on Sunday that their “Anilag or Ani ng Laguna” (harvests of Laguna) Festival shows this pivot in tourism policy thrust, inevitably creating a question mark for faith-based tourism -- which has been the staple of Laguna's tourism industry for the past decades.
“We hope to revive our faith-based tourism, because we cannot detach these festivities from our Filipino culture. I hope in the future that we have more access to funds as the churches alone in the country are important since some of these have already been declared heritage sites by the UNESCO due to their heritage value as an important cultural property,” Sta. Maria said.
He expressed optimism the COA would soon give the thumbs-up for the funding of religious events in view of the traditional “Visita Iglesia” during Holy Week, which draws thousands of pilgrims to the many historic Catholic churches in the province.
“In data gathering for instance in tourism, it (religious festival) is an issue because of getting figures on visitor’s arrival. In the Seal of Good Local Governance by the Department of the Interior and Local Government and National Economic and Development Authority, tourism is included as part of the requirements, including the criteria on culture,” he added.
Sta. Maria added that although “we recognize the separation of the Church and State, what comes to mind is the country’s fun-filled and festive atmosphere during fiestas that are celebrations to honor the patron saints and religious images of a town, city or locality.”
The tourism official cited the Sinulog Festival in Cebu, a huge tourism festival which draws hundreds of thousands of devotees to the “Sto. Niño” or Child Jesus.
“Most festivals in the whole country are rooted in religion. So we hope in the future, we can do something but then again the church mission in religion is part of the tradition already. That is why, we begin our festival to honor our “Lady of Turumba” with the “turumba” as an ecstatic dance in homage to the patroness of Laguna Lake,” he said.
He also disclosed that in preparation for the season of Lent the LTCATO is already coordinating with the Archdiocese of San Pablo as well as the National Historical Commission of the Philippines and even the national government regarding the holding of traditional religious events, which they expect will draw the usual devotees.
“We have in the last two years conducted inspections of the centuries-old churches to ensure the safety of the pilgrims and tourists during their surge for their “Visita Iglesia,” Sta. Maria said.
He also pointed out that eco-tourism and faith-based tourisms are not in conflict because clergy of the Diocese of San Pablo have themselves started their own advocacy for the conservation and protection of the Laguna Lake “in honor of the “Our Lady of Turumba, as patroness of the lake.”
“In Laguna, we have good working relationship with the religious leaders as they even requested us to train church people in tour-guiding activities. And now their thrust is similar to the government like on ecology and the culture of respect,” Sta. Maria added. (PNA)