Puerto Princesa underground river 20 Million votes brace-up for tourism boom

Palawan: Puerto Princesa is preparing for the influx of tourists expected to flock the city following the inclusion of its treasured Underground River in the provisional list of the world's new seven wonders of nature.

According to Puerto Princesa Mayor Edward Hagedorn, the number of tourists more than doubled since the river became an official entry to the new 7 wonders of nature 4 years ago.

"When we started in 2007, we only had around 160,000 tourists. But last year, we registered around 425,000. That's really a big jump," Hagedorn told ANC on Saturday.

Hagedorn, however, admitted that the city's infrastructure is not yet capable of accommodating possibly millions of tourists now that the Underground River has reached elite status, joining other wonders of the world -- South Korea's Jeju Island, Indonesia's Komodo Island, the Amazon rainforest, Vietnam's Halong Bay, Argentina's Iguazu Falls and South Africa's Table Mountain.

"We were really overtaken by events; we're not really ready yet for the influx. We're having sleepless nights now coming up with the proper action that needs to be taken, filling out the deficiency in our infrastructures and tourism potential," the mayor said.

"We're running out of rooms in Puerto Princesa," he added.

Hagedorn hopes that infrastructure in the city will be fully developed within 3 years time, noting that Puerto Princesa has the most number of hotels being constructed in the country at present.

20 million votes

Organizers of the global poll warned that there may yet be changes between the provisional winners and the final list which will be announced in early 2012.

But Hagedorn expressed confidence on the position of the Underground River in the poll's provisional results, saying that the Puerto Princesa slot is "safe."

"I think they are still expecting votes coming from different areas. But I believe we are very, very safe in our position. We believe we have exceeded our target in the text voting of about 12 million. We got around 20 million votes," he said.

Hagedorn extended the city's gratitude to President Benigno Aquino III, who, Hagedorn claimed, "initiated the government's move in inviting all the government officials to campaign for the underground river."

"We were so happy and proud when we heard the final verdict. We would like to thank the President for his all-out campaign," Hagedorn said.

"We would also like to thank the members of the task force headed by Secretary Robredo of DILG and Secretary Paje of DENR. We are really very happy for this development," he added.

Preservation

Senators Pia Cayetano and Loren Legarda on Saturday hailed the inclusion of the Underground River in the list of provisional winners of the New7Wonders of Nature.

"The Undergound River's inclusion in the provisional list of winners affirms the Philippines' reputation as a world-class eco-tourism destination by virtue of our rich biodiversity, breathtaking natural wonders and friendly people," Cayetano said in a press statement.

Cayetano said she hopes that the initial victory would instill "awareness and genuine concern to conserve our rich natural resources."

Legarda, an environment advocate, stressed the need to strengthen efforts to protect and preserve the country's natural heritage.

"What is actually more important than being included in this list of wonders is the continuous preservation not only of the Puerto Princesa Underground River but also of the other natural resources which we are very fortunate to have," Legarda said.

As tourists are expected to swell in Puerto Princesa, Legarda urged local officials to "strengthen its policies to preserve the beauty of the underground river and the ecosystems that exist in it."

"Citizens should also be concerned with the protection of our heritage and must help the government in protecting our country's natural treasures," Legarda added.

Malacañang, meanwhile, said it was "heartened" by the results of the global poll. "We congratulate everyone, especially the people, who made this all possible. With this, we sincerely hope that the rest of the world will stand up and notice the majesty not just of the underground river but the rest of the Philippines," said Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda in a press statement.

The Puerto Princesa Underground River is considered as the world's longest navigable underground river, measuring 8.2 kilometers long.

Picking the new seven wonders of the world was a tedious process as organizers of the global poll had to trim the list of more than 440 contenders to a shortlist of 77.

The number was then further slashed by a panel of experts to 28 finalists.

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