COA hits Sagada LGU for failing to cash-in on its popularity with its low tourism income

By Ben Rosario

Sagada, one of the more popular tourist destinations in the country, has failed to take advantage of its reputation in order to boost its income due to the local government unit’s negligence to monitor its collection, and its laxity in imposing strict financial regulations.

The Commission on Audit made this observation in its 2018 annual audit report released on March 18.

MB FILE—Commission on Audit.

State auditors lamented that despite the 32-percent hike in tourism registration fees last year, loopholes in the collection procedure failed to increase its revenues from tourism-related activities. The 2017 collection of P5.752 million increased to P7.591 million in 2018.

“The municipality of Sagada is among the most visited tourist destinations in Northern Luzon. AS such, its main source of local income is the collection from tourist registration fees,” the COA report said.

Auditors pointed out that Municipal Ordinance No. 08-2018 passed by the Sagada municipal council provided that total fees collected will be used for activities aimed at protecting the town’s tourist attractions and encouraging more visitors, live solid waste disposal, preservation of natural scenic spots, repair and construction of tourism support facilities, and assistance to community cultural activities.

According to COA there were lapses in the collection of fees as designated collectors failed to strictly comply with the rule requiring tourists to log in their names and other information in the guest registry which made it difficult to determine accurate tourist traffic based on age, sex, and other indicators.

To determine whether or not their observations were correct, audit examiners conducted a walk-through on the process of registration and collection last January 5.

It was observed that some visitors did not pay the required fees even after registering.

Exemptions from payment of necessary fees were granted although the visitors failed to show standard government identifications as proof of residence.

“The officer-in-charge disclosed that residents of the municipality or tourists (using) Sagada as hometown address are exempted,” the COA noted.

Auditors said even the verification system put in place by the local government could not be relied upon because officers on duty were authorized to grant exemptions based merely on “familiarity” or the visitor’s ability to speak the local dialect.

The COA said Sagada was losing potential income through the existing process, since under the LGU’s Revenue Code and ordinances, payment of tourism fees was supposed to be mandatory.

At the same time, auditors reported that checkers and collectors were only assigned in four destinations – the Sumaguing Cave, Lumiang Cave, Echo Valley, and Bomod-ok.

Influx of tourists has also been noted in areas like Lake Danum, Pongas Falls, and Bokong Falls but these are practically abandoned by the municipal government.

“The absence of checkers in some tourist sites to monitor payments of tourist registration poses risks…that may result in decrease of income to fund the intended purposes,” COA auditors said.

To address the situation, the state audit agency called on local officials to coordinate with local guides’ associations and barangay officials to collect and monitor the number of visitors to better protect the environment.