In the early 1960s, the national government built the 22-room single-story Mount Data Hotel situated within a 9.9-hectare property within the over 5,000-hectare Mount Data National Park purposely to serve as a lodging facility for travelers visiting the pristine tourist destinations of Sagada and Banaue, and other towns within the central Cordillera. In 1977, the management of the facility was turned over to the Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA) which was then in charge of the management of all tourism facilities in the country.
For over five decades now, Mount Data hotel served as a favorite destination for both foreign and domestic tourists visiting the tourist spots region-wide. It is also one of the historical places in the country being the site of the historic Mount Data peace agreement entered into on September 13, 1986 between the government represented by former President Corazon C. Aquino and the group headed by former rebel priest Fr. Conrado Balweg of the defunct Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army (CPLA).
Here, then President Aquino gave to Fr. Balweg a bible as her token while the CPLA turned over to her several tokens to formalize the peace agreement that put an end to the hostilities between government forces and the rebel forces represented by the priest. The end of the hostilities translated to the creation of the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) by virtue of executive Order No. 220 issued by President Aquino on July 15, 1987. The CAR was supposed to prepare the region for autonomy, a commitment of the national government during the signing of the peace agreement.
On February 8, 2006, PTA turned over to the Mountain Province government the management and operation of the Mount Data hotel through a memorandum of agreement. Under this agreement, the local government will manage the hotel for a 10-year period and remit to the concerned government agency 3 percent of the monthly gross revenue. Further, the provincial government was mandated to pay the salaries and wages of the employees to ensure the sustainable operation of the lodging facility.
However, last year, the newly created Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA), formerly PTA, was constrained to take back the management of the hotel after the provincial government reportedly failed to make the facility an income-generating endeavor for both parties through the years.
Instead of continuing the operation of the hotel to cater to the lodging requirements of the increasing number of tourists visiting the central Cordillera, TIEZA opted to shut down the operation of the hotel in order to rehabilitate it but the planned improvement of the facility was never pursued up to this time.
The Bauko Municipal Government signified its intention to take over the management and operation of the hotel after the proposed rehabilitation plan shall have been completed because of the increasing demand from visitors for accommodation but it seems TIEZA has not yet officially responded to the offer.
We commend the efforts of Mayor Abraham B. Akilit for the initiative offered to manage the facility. He has projected the bright prospects for the hotel once effectively and efficiently managed by competent personnel. The local government unit is promoting the natural attractions in the municipality, from its lakes, falls and mountains, to the products from its farms and forests. The mayor is also keen on keeping the forest areas intact in order to sustain the town’s role as the watershed of the famous Chico river and other waterway. Bauko previously proposed the put up of a museum within the hotel to project its historical value but this was reportedly included in the overall plan to rehabilitate the structure of the hotel to increase its capacity among others. TIEZA must realize the need to preserve the historical value of the hotel and its significant contribution to the local tourism industry and allow the Bauko Municipal Government as a major stakeholder to manage and operate the facility.
We challenge the tourism department to promote local government initiatives and disperse tourism promotions away from Baguio and Benguet because the said areas are already well-developed and overcrowded. Further, Bauko has a well-developed tourism plan that supports local initiatives but at the same time ensures low impact on the environment. It bodes well for the government to decongest Baguio and Benguet by promoting the potential ecotourism destinations region-wide as planned by local government units. Tourism can be a major economic driver in the region if sustainable tourism plans owned by communities are supported and encouraged.
TIEZA and the tourism department must work out a sustainable tourism development plan that will guarantee the development and promotion of identified key tourist destinations all over the archipelago instead of concentrating the government’s limited resources to overdeveloped and overcrowded communities. Now that a fourth-class local government wants to operate the Mount hotel as part of its ecotourism plan, concerned government agencies must support this initiative.