Nature lovers and culture vultures have more to reason to bask in the charming picturesque town of El Nido, Palawan as it emerges as a haven for nature and culture in the country’s last frontier.

This developed as the town showcased its exotic culture and rich natural resources in the 7th Kalugtan Arts Festival held last April 13-17.

Organized by the Kalugtan Arts Guild and supported by the Municipal Government of El Nido, the event featured seminar workshops on different art disciplines and various special events.

El Nido town proper

The resort town was declared a Managed Resource Protected Area by the government in 1998, and has 13 community-managed Marine Protected Areas.

Kalugtan is derived from the native Cuyunin word “lugta” which means “earth”.

According to El Nido Mayor Edna Gacot-Lim, the festival highlighted community-based and grassroots efforts to promote environmental awareness through various art forms.

She said that with annual event, the town has become a haven for culture and nature because of its bustling local art scene, prehistoric archaeological sites and diverse ecosystem.

Art exhibit at Balay Tubay

Art lectures and practical crafts workshops, which were facilitated by specialists in various art forms, catered specifically to youths and school children.

Sand art workshop

El Nido map painting

Facilitators included Mario Lubrico and Frances Mendoza for painting, Atilano Buenavista for terra cotta sculpture, the Diwan Group for percussion, beadworks and fire dancing, Tanya Sayajon for theater, Eric Sister for videography, Leonard Reyes for photography, Bernard Supetran for news writing, and three-time Unyon ng Manunulat na Pilipino (Umpil) Makata ng Taon awardee Tomas Agulto for poetry.

Arvin Acosta, visual artist and tourism officer

Percussion recital

This year’s arts festival added new ideas and styles with the infusion of foreign artists Susan Gibb from Australia and Diego Thomas from Sweden who led the Didgeridoo workshop. American Peace Corps volunteers Jerica Ward, Lia Cheek and Sky Skach taught lessons on voice, violin and plastic eco-bag production, respectively.

Concluding the festival was the Concert for Mother Earth in celebration of Earth Day featuring Lolita Carbon of the legendary folk rock band Asin.

Lolita Carbon jams with El Nido talents

The nostalgic concert featured Asin’s signature environmental song “Kapaligiran” and other hits of social relevance which sounded the people’s opposition to mining operations in Palawan and the need to protect and nurture its environment.

Local musical ensembles Islanen (led by Vlad Datuin) and Sikap (with Erric Tarre as bandleader), Manila-based musicians Babes Alejo (Aling Juana Band), Leonard Reyes (Village Idiot) and Yano sessionist-drummer Noel Favila jammed with Carbon in rocking the night away.

As part of its social responsibility, Kalugtan Festival featured an “eco-care activity” spearheaded by Reef Watch consisting of reef protection, coastal clean ups, installation of mooring buoys, and removal of the coral-eating starfish Crown of Thorns.

Buoy laying at El Nido

El Nido’s diverse ecosystem contains 250 million year-old limestone cliffs, 888 species of fish, 447 species of coral, 114 species of bird, 5 species of marine turtle, and five endemic mammal species, including the dugong (seacow), the world’s rarest marine mammal, and 2,645 hectares of mangrove forest.

It has 3 major archeological excavation sites: Pasimbahan Cave and Ille Rockshelter in Bgy. New Ibajay, and Sibaltan Open Site in Bgy. Sibaltan. The annual excavations, led by the University of the Philippines Archaeological Studies Program, led to the discovery of 14,000 year-old human remains, 9,000 year-old cremation sites and 11,000 year-old tiger bones in New Ibajay and a pre-colonial trading community in Sibaltan.

To capture this rich heritage, the village established a community museum in its barangay hall which contains personal accessories of its early inhabitants.

Sibaltan Community Museum

Mayor Lim said that these activities are part of the municipal government’s Eco-Tourism Development Fee (ETDF) program to help protect El Nido’s fragile ecosystem.

Incepted in 2008, The ETDF ordinance requires visitors to pay a P 200.00 environment fee which will provide access to all tourism sites for 10 days. Fees go to environmental protection, education and training, resource rehabilitation, solid waste management, and infrastructure development.

Big Lagoon

limestone cliffs in Bgy Ille

Located at mainland Palawan’s northernmost portion, it can be reached by a 4.5 hour land trip from Puerto Princesa City. Seair and ITI fly directly to El Nido, although at much higher fare.

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