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I NEVER did leave my heart in San Francisco. In fact, I never did leave my heart anywhere in America. But San Francisco was the first American city that I visited in the spring of 1980. I was privileged to have been an awardee of the Group Study Exchange Program (GSE) of the Rotary International and spent several weeks in the 4-State Rotary District 6110 of Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Since my first trip to America 39 years ago, I have been in and out of the country countless times. Although in terms of endearment, Cambridge and Boston are where I accumulated my baggage of nostalgia, having spent my sabbatical year for studies there. New York City should come next as my daughter and my grandchildren resided there.

But San Francisco has always filled me with dread as the San Andreas fault hangs as a Damocles sword over the place. It has triggered several earthquakes over the past century — from the 7.9 magnitude in 1857 that claimed one fatality, to the 1906, 1989 and 2004 quakes that destroyed great swathes of the city by fire and infrastructure collapse, reducing them to rubble, with thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in property damage.

I am a moviegoer and the flick “San Andreas,” although a fictional depiction of the end of times for California, could be what scientists have been predicting all along; the splitting of the state from the mainland along the San Andreas Fault, the boundary between the Pacific and the North American tectonic plates. And there are perhaps a million kababayan residents, not to count my relatives living the American dream. That’s why I feel a certain trepidation every time I visit San Francisco or Los Angeles.

We are now in Yosemite, at least farther away from this part of the earth’s lithosphere; as if that were really a consolation if ever the “big one” comes. My seven-year-old grandson, Max, assured me that this catastrophe is at least 10,000 years in the future.

My grandkids miss the snow since they relocated to Manila and the closest to a snowman they can construct is the artificial snow at SM Megamall. Also, skiing is part of their DNA having been sired by an American father from St. Cloud, Minnesota, where snow cover during winter is abundant.

The park itself is generally open for tourists and visitors despite the President Trump-induced shutdown, which is now on its third week. With a reported close to 800,000 unfunded federal employees, certain sites are closed. Packed like sardines in a Chevy Suburban, we breezed through unstaffed but open entrance stations. The park service-provided information and orientation are somewhat available as there are a few and unpaid volunteers bravely manning the park, in effect keeping some visitor centers open, although the Yosemite museum was closed. Some campgrounds and hiking trails remain open and free public shuttle service around the valley is available. Thank God my son-in-law got a VRBO cabin at Redwood Parks on Wawona, about an hour from the Badger Pass ski area where a fresh powder of snow allows skiing lifts and runs open despite the shutdown.

And we did ski with the three kids, coached by Matt and Lara, down the “turtle run,” the slope reserved for beginners ages 3 to the teens. As a skiing tyro for 30 years, I still must brave the “green and black” runs, earmarked for accomplished skiers, which I did not attempt this time. But I have bragging rights as “master of the kiddie slopes.”

The National Park Service (NPS) that is responsible for managing all national parks is an agency under the US Department of the Interior. It is mandated “…to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. Yosemite National Park covers an area of 747,956 acres and designated a World Heritage site; and famous for its granite cliffs, waterfalls, glaciers and biological diversity. Ninety-five percent of the park is designated wilderness.” (Wikipedia)

I can’t help comparing our national parks in the Philippines. The Mount Apo Natural Park (MANP) for one, was established as a protected area and acknowledged as an Asean Heritage Site, with an area of 54,974.87 hectares. Upon its designation as a protected area, 30 percent of the land area, or approximately 14,900 has., had forest cover. However, negligent government policy allowed conversion of the areas into agricultural use and for human settlements, degrading the forest and wildlife habitat. Illegal tree cutting has been prevalent and charcoal making for household use resulted in forest cover loss of 1,400 has. yearly.

Popular as a mountain climbing and trekking site, being the highest mountain in the country, hundreds visit the park yearly and a few climb the summit. But policing of the area is minimal. Toilet facilities and half-way cottages are practically absent, with climbers and tourists littering the trails with garbage and human waste. These could be the reasons why the park was taken out of the Unesco list of heritage sites.

What President Duterte did in Boracay could be a template in saving national parks and resort areas for Filipino and foreign tourists, but more importantly, for the enjoyment of the present generation and future ones. The internationally famous beach resort had deteriorated since the early 1970s-1980s prompting the Deegong to declare the whole resort as a cesspool, an environmental blight. He used the full powers of government to close the resort to tourists for half a year and clean the area, putting in a sewage system connecting 200 hotels and establishments to the sewerage lines instead of these effluents being discharged directly to the sea. He has forcibly dismantled structures that illegally encroached upon the shoreline, and has directed the widening of the streets to ease traffic. More importantly, he has closed businesses that are non-compliant with Philippine laws and local ordinances. There are still flaws in the management of the area which are under several government departments that include tourism, environment and natural resources and local government. But things are beginning to improve, restoring the resort to world class status.

But the local population is supportive of PRRD and the success of the rehabilitation of Boracay could be the impetus for similar initiatives for other resorts and national parks and could even extend to the cleaning of esteros and slum area development in the inner cities. Palawan resorts outside of El Nido and Amanpulo may be targeted next. These drastic measures have never been attempted before by any of our political leaders since the birth of the Republic, except for this oft-vilified President Duterte. Love him or hate him, this is what political will is all about. And this is what the country needs.000
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