Can Underground River make it to the N7WN?

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COMMONSENSE By Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) Updated August

SABANG — While it was intermittently raining in Metro Manila, it is sunny and dry when we arrived here in Palawan last Monday. This is my first-ever opportunity to visit the most famous place in this province and be able to finally see up close and personal one of the world’s natural wonders, the Underground River of Puerto Princesa City.

Actually, the Underground River is situated in the northwestern part of the province. It is located more than 50 kilometers (km) away from the Puerto Princesa airport, or about one-hour ride by land.

We were invited by the Department of Tourism (DOT) for a media familiarization tour of one of our country’s premier tourist destinations now being intensely promoted to be declared one of the seven wonders of the world in modern times.

More popularly called as the Underground River, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is currently in the thick of the race among the world’s heritage sites to be included in the elite New Seven Wonders of Nature.

The Puerto Princesa Underground River was first declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in December 1999. It is now the sole official entry of the Philippines to the New Seven Wonders of Nature search, in which it is one of the 28 finalists. For brevity’s sake, we will just refer to the search as N7WN, a Swiss-based competition that started in 2007.

An international consultancy firm Grant Thorton placed the economic value of being voted as one of the N7WN at $1 billion over a period of five years in terms of tourism upswing by more than 20 percent and the multiplier effect on other industries as well as new jobs and higher income for the people.

Hence, all Filipinos are being enjoined no less than by President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III to pitch in this national campaign for the Underground River to make it to the N7WN. To this end, President Aquino signed Proclamation No. 182 last June 3 that started the national and international promotion campaign to push the Underground River’s inclusion in the N7WN.

P-Noy flew all the way here last June 6 to become the country’s “poster boy” for the Underground River to signify the government’s determination to achieve this national goal. He and Puerto Princesa City Mayor Edward Hagedorn appeared together in the infomercial entirely shot at the Underground River to promote its N7WM bid through a text campaign.

Since the new administration took over in June last year, DOT Secretary Alberto Lim has carried the torch, so to speak, in the country’s bid to have the Underground River win a slot in this honorific circle. The DOT was designated as one of the lead agencies of the government to undertake the massive promotion and advocacy campaign here and abroad. Our tour here is part of the series of activities to kick off the “aggressive campaign” toward the countdown to the Grand National Launch set this Aug. 24.

Even long before this presidential proclamation, Hagedorn has been in the forefront of this campaign to promote the Underground River’s bid when the search for the N7WN started last year. As of the latest tally done last March 4, the Underground River had reached the No. 13 position from the previous No. 18 rank.

And most recently, the Underground River’s bid for the N7WN got its much-needed push after an international group of scientists and explorers made an unexpected discovery in the dark caves. The group, called La Venta Esplorazioni Geografiche, extensively conducted an independent research in the whole stretch of the Underground River and found fossilized remains of “sirenia,” the scientific name for sea cow, or “dugong” in Tagalog.

The Italy-based La Venta discovered last March the skeletal remains of the “sirenia” that had fossilized on the cave walls in the innermost sanctums of the Underground River. This sea mammal is not native to the Philippines but is more common in Europe. La Venta paleontologists confirmed the fossilized remains as that of “sirenia” dating back to the “Miocene Age.”

“Having studied the hydrodynamics and the hydrochemistry of the Puerto Princesa Underground River, having conducted micro-meteorological researches, having completed some topographic surveys, which unearthed interesting morphologies, and finally, having conducted a paleontological study on several bones discovered embedded in one of the cave walls, we hereby declare that the Puerto Princesa Underground River is a True Wonder of Nature that can be considered one of the most fascinating tourist attractions in the world today,” the La Venta Exploration Team certified. It was signed by Dr. Leonardo Piccini, scientist coordinator, and Antonio de Vivo, project leader of the team.

After extensive explorations in 2000, 2007, 2008 and 2011, La Venta has mapped out the span of the Underground River at more than 30 km. But only 8 km is “navigable” and of that stretch, tourists can only reach up to 1.2 km from the entrance of the natural caves surrounding it.

Hagedorn has thrown his full support to this campaign for what he fondly calls as the PPUR, or the Puerto Princesa Underground River for short. The contest involves casting votes via the Internet by logging on to Or you can vote via SMS by texting PPUR, PPUR7 or PPUR15 to signify your number of votes to 2861 (for all networks in the Philippines).

Filipinos overseas as well as foreign tourists who have visited the Underground River are also encouraged to vote via SMS. They can just text PPUR to the following designated numbers in their respective countries: (77077) Canada; (19788555) Australia; (3888) United Arab Emirates; (001-1588-7715) South Korea; and (34874) South Africa. For those in Poland, text PUERTO and send it to 7155, and those in Taiwan, N7WPPUR to 55123.

The next three months are crucial in sustaining the bid of the Underground River to be in the “magic 7” circle. The last vote will be counted on Nov. 10 and the winners will be proclaimed the next day. The New 7 Wonders of Nature, incidentally, will be announced on 11-11-11 and hopefully, the Underground River will be one of them.

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