MATUGUINAO, Samar-From being known as a haven of terrorism to being a potential tourist destination in entire Samar province.
This is the vision of Mayor Aran Boller of this town, whose mere mention connotes presence of members of the New People’s Army (NPA).
But Boller, who is serving on his first term as mayor of the fifth-class town (P89 million) with more than 7,200 population, said that he is determined to change that perception through opening his town via its tourism industry.
The town is known for its several cold springs and cathedral-like caves which the town has started to develop and open for tourists to visit.
He, however, admitted that the current pandemic caused by coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has somewhat affected his campaign.
“But since we started to open up our town through our tourist spots, we have been visited by tourists coming from different parts of Samar and even outside the province,” Boller said.
He said that since they started inviting tourists to visit their town, Boller said that close to 5,000 travelers have enjoyed their cold springs and caves which are all accessible.
The local government unit charges P30 per guests as environmental fee. The collected amount goes to the municipal education board which help finance the needs of students and schools in the town.
“I decided to open up our tourism destinations to help change the perception of the public that Matuguinao is a bad place. That our town is nothing but a lair of the New People’s Army,” Boller said.
Since he assumed the post in 2019, the town mayor said, among the first things he did was to encourage rebels and their sympathizers to give up the armed struggle and return to the folds of the law.
And his campaign appeared to have paid off as around 300 supporters and regular members of the terror group have so far given up, the town mayor said.
And those who decided to return to the folds of the law were provided by the municipal government of livelihood assistance. Others were hired by the municipal government as job order workers and even as security aids.
“Now our place is considered to be peaceful. Our crime rate is zero. There is no civilian-to-civilian conflict save for some insurgency-related fight which have become isolated,” Boller said.
The town mayor said that he is grateful that his town mates are giving him their full support reason why they are experiencing a degree of tranquility and in the process, change the image of Matuguinao.
The once sleepy and rebel-known town is abuzz with construction of new structures like public market, terminal building, farm-to-market roads, and even a fire station.
Last July 8, Mayor Boller delivered his state of the municipality address(Soma) wherein he vowed to transform his town into one of the most important and economically stable in entire province.
He, however, said that all his efforts would result to nothing without the support from his people.
Boller also recognized 12 barangays in the town which were declared as ‘cleared’ from insurgency problem. These areas are to receive financial assistance from the government for them to realize their chosen projects under the national government to end local communist armed conflict (NT-ELCAC).
Among those who attended Boller’s second Soma was Governor Michael Reynolds Tan who also promised to Boller of his total support by providing needed financial assistance to all his projects.
“You have surprised me in so many ways.Wnat your administration has done in Matuguinao beyond my imagination,” Tan said. (JOEY A. GABIETA)