MANILA, Philippines—This actress-turned-politician refused to get dragged into all the drama.
Batangas Governor Vilma Santos, an award-winning actress, pleaded critics not to “overreact.”
In a phone interview with the Inquirer Thursday morning, she recalled that she had been greeted by a barrage of “negative comments on the Internet” upon waking up.
Cyberspace buzzed with criticisms against the purported plan of the Batangas provincial government to construct a towering “Batangas” sign on Taal Volcano island similar to the “Hollywood” sign in Los Angeles, California.
On Facebook, the “Come Visit My Philippines” tourism group page, was flooded with indignant feedback. “Aesthetically repugnant,” said one. “Stupid in every way,” said another. “Vote No. They should just focus on cleaning up the island of the trash left behind by the tourists.”
Santos asked the public for a little sobriety.
She explained that the proposal to construct a huge sign on Taal volcano “is not final yet,” adding that it will have to go through a process, involving consultations with various government agencies, including the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, along with concerned sectors, like the fisherfolk.
“It’s not as if it’s a done deal. It’s not as if there’s already an allocated budget for the construction,” she remarked. “It was just a plan that was tackled in a meeting.”
She recounted that in a meeting last week, the proposal had been discussed with the Protected Area and Management Board, which is tasked to oversee the lake and the volcano.
She said that the PAMB is comprised of representatives from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the private sector, fisherfolk organizations and the mayors of the towns surrounding the lake.
She was present in the meeting and various suggestions had been raised on how to best protect and promote Taal Lake as a provincial treasure.
“Our main goal is to reclaim Taal Lake and Volcano as part of Batangas,” she pointed out.
She is aware of the widespread misperception that Taal is part of Tagaytay, Cavite. “The best views of the lake and volcano can be seen from Tagaytay,” she conceded. “We wanted a landmark that will identify Taal as part of Batangas.”
The sign that was suggested in the meeting, she recounted, would spell out “Ala Eh,” a common Batangueño expression, and not “Batangas.”
The provincial board, she noted, cannot act unilaterally on this issue.
“We have to study it carefully and consult various government agencies, including the DENR and Phivolcs first,” she said.
In the aftermath of the fish kill disaster, she said that the provincial government had been working double time.
“The national government wants a gradual phaseout of the 6,000 fishcages in the lake,” she said. “We have to do it in two to three years and come up with alternative livelihood projects for those who will be displaced by the closure of fishpens.”
It was in this light that the idea of converting the lake into an eco-tourism destination was brought up, she said.
“Tourism would spell more jobs in the province,” she said.
By reclaiming Taal Lake and Volcano as their own, “the people of Batangas will hopefully learn to cherish and protect it,” she clarified.
She was saddened that the issue had been reduced to mere “politicking.”
“We are not fighting with the people of Tagaytay,” she said. “There’s no bad blood between Mayor Abraham Tolentino and Batangas. In case of a natural calamity, Tagaytay will be our partner in evacuating and saving our people.”
She is aware that the noise could’ve been fueled by political opponents who are eyeing the next election in 2013.
“Bahala sila sa buhay nila. I have no time for politicking,” said the governor who is on her second term and could still run for a third time. “I’m not motivated by self-interest. I am just here to serve the people of Batangas the best way I can.”
Running for re-election is the farthest from her mind right now, she said. “I’d rather focus on my work in the province in the next one year and a half.”
It’ll be a busy time—especially since she’s also shooting a movie with young actress Kim Chiu entitled “The Healing” for Star Cinema, she said.