CARAMOAN, CAMARINES SUR?It was not too long ago that only backpackers and the locals knew of this remote peninsula?s pristine beaches.
But the fourth-class municipality is expected to achieve celebrity status soon enough, with foreign productions completing filming and development projects in place. Even now it is being touted as the next Boracay.
About 10 million TV viewers in Europe and Canada are expected to watch the French edition of ?Survivor,? which was shot entirely on Caramoan?s white-sand beaches.
The eighth season of ?Survivor-France? will be aired in France and other French-speaking nations like Switzerland, Belgium and Canada from July to September, their summer season.
?Survivor,? a popular reality game show that isolates its contestants in the wilderness to compete for cash and prizes, is known to choose locations in exotic environments.
Gota beach, the gateway to Caramoan?s other beaches and islets, was rented for exclusive use by the French production outfit starting late February until early this month.
According to ?Survivor-France? TV director Corinne Vaillant, the powdery sand, the coconuts on Gota beach and the neighboring islets are a ?dream? for the French people.
?We chose Caramoan because it?s really wide. It?s necessary that contestants don?t see anything other than nature for them to believe that they?re really lost in the wilds,? Vaillant told the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net).
With the filming completed, members of the production crew prepared to leave Gota beach Wednesday.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, some Cabinet officials and congressmen visited Caramoan on Monday and stayed overnight at Gota beach.
Tourism Secretary Joseph Ace Durano, who was in Ms Arroyo?s party, said the wide viewership of ?Survivor? would surely boost tourism in Caramoan.
Durano said it was the first time in the TV show?s history that two seasons were consecutively shot in one country.
2 Hollywood films?
He said the seventh season of ?Survivor-France? was filmed in Palawan last year, and that after it was aired, the number of tourists arriving in the province from France alone was up by 23 percent.
While the Department of Tourism, which brought ?Survivor-France? to Caramoan, shouldered the fuel cost to keep the location powered with electricity, the provincial government took care of the development of the site.
There are now 73 foldaway cabanas at Gota beach, imported from China and worth P60,000 each, said a source who asked not to be named for lack of authority to speak to the media.
A total of 20 regular-sized cabanas can be assembled by two teams in a day.
Ms Arroyo stayed in one of the largest cabanas during her overnight stay, the source said.
Filipinos in crew
One of 10 Filipinos hired as production assistants in ?Survivor-France? told the Inquirer that the work was a demanding and challenging experience.
?We also had to hop with the whole production team from one beach or islet to another,? said the man, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was bound by a confidentiality agreement.
He said Gota beach was tightly guarded to keep kibitzers away, and that the production assistants were among the few who were able to see the contestants being filmed.
?Survivor-France? also hired more than 120 laborers and visual artists, the source said.
He said the laborers were paid P250 a day; the visual artists, as much as P800 a day; and the production assistants, at least P1,000 a day.
P20M to prov?l gov?t
A source close to Camarines Sur Gov. Luis Raymund ?LRay? Villafuerte Jr. said ?Survivor-France? reportedly paid the provincial government P20 million for the exclusive use of Caramoan?s beaches.
The memorandum of agreement to develop and manage Gota beach was signed between the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the provincial government, and the municipal government apparently does not have a share in the revenue.
The provincial government gained the right to manage and administer the Caramoan National Park, specifically Gota beach, which covers about 298 hectares, at the signing of the MOA on March 16, 2005, according to a copy of the agreement furnished the Inquirer.
The signatories were then Environment Secretary Michael Defensor (for the DENR-Protected Area Management Board) and Villafuerte (for Camarines Sur).
Durano thinks there is nothing wrong with the agreement.
?Well, the municipality is under the province, right? So the local leaders here and the provincial government would just have to talk about it.?
In a phone interview late last month, Villafuerte said Caramoan residents stood to benefit from the development of Gota beach in terms of employment opportunities and infrastructure.
He said the provincial government was implementing a P200-million development plan in Caramoan, which included road networking and the construction of an airport.
The governor also said ?two Hollywood films were in the works for possible shooting? on Caramoan?s beaches.
With no filming contracts in the meantime, he said Gota beach would be reopened to the public in June.
There?s a chance that the American edition of ?Survivor? will be filmed next in Caramoan, according to an employee of the provincial government who was at Gota beach preparing for Ms Arroyo?s visit on Monday.
But the employee, who refused to give her name, said nothing had been finalized.
As for talk of Hollywood stars, reportedly including California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, coming to shoot, a ranking officer of Gota beach could only flash a noncommittal smile.
Villafuerte had earlier said that Caramoan could be the next Boracay, with a difference: Development projects would be carefully planned so it would not become like the now world-famous resort??overloaded? and plagued with sewage problems.
But Durano said it would not do justice to Caramoan if it would be viewed only from the Boracay perspective.
?We should always improve on what we have based on what we?ve learned from [tourist] destinations. Maybe we should say that this will be better than Boracay,? he said.
Durano also said it was important that development be done slowly.
?Since nature is the main asset and attraction here, it must be preserved. Everyone must be careful not to overdevelop the place.?