IN THE LAST YEARÂ or so ,thousands of tourists have marveled in awe at Bohol’s newest tourism sensation off Panglao island, a developed islet Â named “Isola de Francesco”.
Two hard-nosed Â couple- lawyers from Manila who have seen the world, in fact , earlier vowed to come back to Bohol solely for the reason of sampling once again the physical invigoration and the spiritual replenishment accorded by Â the islet- paradise.
Let us remember that Saint Padre Pio Â of Pietrelcina, the mystic saint who bore Jesus’ wounds on his feet, hands and side of the body and Â had that venerated stigmata for 50 years (1918-1998) Â and then Â canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002 – is no ordinary saint. His feast day happens soon on September 23.
His call has been “Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry” to all devotees ,a patron for those under stress. Many miracles all over the world in his intercession have been recorded. Padre Pio , as he is popularly known, whose remains are locked inside Our Lady of Grace church in Giovanni, Rotondo, Italy Â is visited byÂ 7 million pilgrimsÂ every year, more than all Â the tourists that come to the Philippines Â every year.
Padre Pio is no ordinary object of veneration. Recently , Archbishop Socrates Villegas , president of the CBCP (Catholic Bishops of the Philippines) , declared the pilgrimage site of Padre Pio in Sto Tomas, Batangas into a Â “national shrine status” called ” The National Shrine of Saint Padre Pio”, recognition of its Â elevated status among more than 80 million Catholics in the country.
The Padre Pio chapel in the midst of the traffic-heavy C-5 along Libis, Manila is religiously visited Â daily by thousands of Â devotees ,assured of the many spiritual interventions of the saint in both material and spiritual concerns
Lucky, therefore, is Bohol to have a tourism haven-cum spiritual sanctuary rolled into one in “Isola de Francesco”. We are all in praise of it.
Here’s one for the record. A private individual who happens to be a Boholano by affinity, Â decided to Â develop this Â islet , actually a nice sand bar from its Â more infamous history as Â the Â former “Virgin Island.”Â Years ago, Â this islet was Â filled with thrash including condoms with vendors selling their snacks and drinks right at the sand bar. “It was a bloody mess”, the British visitor barked then.
Then the Â Manila-based Â businessman Ramon Â Rodriguez found his passion to develop the island into what it is now a sparkling Â enclave -thoroughly Â cleaned Â and with buoys placed all over the islet to ensure the cleanliness of the place. More tourists came to enjoy swimming, snorkeling in the islet and feasted over it in social media. Moreover, there is order and security in the place from docking to enjoying the amenities.
The magical transformation from a Â former “sin island” Â is completed Â with the islola made Â into a unique “prayer garden” in the middle of a sand bar.Perhaps, this is Â only one of the very few natural islets in the world where one can have Â a good moment for meditation and commune with nature. Meditation is not to be underestimated as sophisticated medical researches led to the conclusion that the act alone changes parts of the human Â brain that reduces depression and anxiety.Â Think about hitting three birds with one stone.
Rodriguez who heads the country’s devotees of St. Padre Pio, placed a huge statue of the priest turned to saint in the middle surrounded by images of small white angels and beautiful flowers around the islet. Â At sundown , it is a sight to behold.Â It is clear that his Â love to contribute something to Bohol was carefully thought of. Mon is a businessman, there must be a catch? None.
Ferry transfers, entrance, snacks, food and the swim Â are in fact all for free.Stroll, pray soon Â in the chapel, enjoy the crystal blue waters where hundreds of starfish can still be found- to one’s content.Â And the “free to enjoy” is not a beginner’s gimmick, it will be forever. Rodriguez has vowed.Â And the quality of the Â world-class rest rooms there Â will make one conclude that the enjoyment of the visitor was foremost in the mind of the developer.
However, the Â dream paradise that was the “Isola de Francesco” Â abruptly changed into an overnight nightmare last Thursday.Â Panglao Mayor Nila Montero, personally led a composite team to destroy and confiscate all the buoys- claiming that the marginal fishermen complained as they were allegedly deprived of their livelihood like Â fishing and Â foiled in their need to shelter their pump boats during typhoons.
To objective minds, the reasons seemed Â quite flimsy as the area is not even Â a fishing ground and most pump boat operators in the area earn more in tourism (as boat men and guides) Â than Â from fishing. The public suspects political reason could be Â the motive behind the “attack.” It is such a pity, Â if it is.
The bouys were installed by the Rodriguez’ to protect the islet as what is being encouraged by the Phil Coast Guard.Â In fact, DOT ( Department of Tourism) Regional Director Rowena Montecillo, during one of her visits, was all praises seeing the cleanliness and preservation of the sand bar, with buoys surrounding the entire islet.Â For DOT, the islet is a “must” visit Â for tourists to enjoy.
One legal bone of contention is the tussle for legal weight between Â the provisions of the Philippine Coast Guard Â n(PCG) CG-8 Memorandum Â Circular MC No Â 03-14 Â and the Municipal Ordinance 6 Series of 1998.
Likewise, the islet is legally Â titled to Ramon Rodriguez. However, the town mayor anchored her apparent Â objection citing Â a Â “government policy stating that no one can own an island under Philippine laws.” So, if Rodriguez Â was able to show a legal document proving his ownership , Â the LGU should Â seek clarification through legal means, rather than unilaterally Â destroying Â the buoys Â intended Â to protect and preserve the islet.
Now, that the buoys were destroyed by policemen and town officials, the private developer has all the right Â to Â seek justice through legal means.
The punitive drama at high seas Â last Thursday was indeed a chaotic episode that contrasted with the previous Â daily sight of smiling tourists and devotees frequenting the isola. Padre Pio, for one, is not pleased.
Legal means , we postulate, are the way to go to resolve conflicts of opinion.Â Destroying Â what has started to be a new destination in Bohol- a new page offering why one should visit Bohol- Â Â is counter productive.
In order not to discourage other private developers, the provincial officialdom should come into the picture if they want to deliver the message that private investments are welcomed, not driven away, in Bohol . And the DOT should say its piece Â on the matter as it impacts the national interest.
Meantime, our two Â hard-nosed Â lawyers, for now, Â may have to Â pitifully redirect their plane tickets to Palawan Â instead- all because of a beautiful islet of meditation Â in Bohol -” Isola de Francesco” Â caught in the crossfire of worldly interests.
Such a pity, we say again.
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