The Enigma of the Empire

Their rise and fall of empires have fascinated history buffs, especially if they are immortalized by Hollywood film-makers. One case in point is the birth of the Greek Empire, which is depicted in a most-awaited sequel to the gallant stand of the 300 Spartans led by King Leonidas against the mighty Persians.

But closer to home, far from the glitter of Hollywood studios, an empire existed in the country which brings with it centuries of glorious history—the Empire Province of Cotabato.

Once the Philippine archipelago’s biggest province, it spans from the lush Moro Gulf and Sarangani Bay, fertile farmlands, majestic mountain ranges and verdant tropical rainforests. Back in the day, Cotabato was the domain of the legendary 18th-century Muslim leader Sultan Dipatuan Kudarat when Mindanao experienced its golden age.

Founded by the American civil government on Sept. 1, 1914, it included the whole South Central Mindanao region, covering the present-day South Cotabato, Sarangani, Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat, and the cities of Cotabato and Gen. Santos.

With geopolitical partitions over the years, notwithstanding, Cotabato has remained the “mother province” and cradle of culture of the region now referred to as “Soccsksargen”, an acronym of the provinces comprising the area.

The province’s claim to fame is the confluence of 13 indigenous Muslim and lumad tribes, which make it a cultural kaleidoscope. Among the prominent IP groups are the Teduray, Manobo, Tagabawa, Igorot, B’laan, Matigsalog, Ilianen, Kirintiken, Tinananon, and Aromanen, plus the Maguindanaoan Muslim tribe who live in harmony.

This cultural tapestry is preserved in the annual Kalivungan Festival which also marks the provincial founding day. Coined from the Manobo word literally meaning “gathering”, it showcases the ethnic music, dance, rituals, and the diverse ways of life.

Manobo tribal community dance

Manobo tribal community dance

According to Cotabato Gov. Emily Taliño-Mendoza, Kalivungan brings to the fore the political and economic strides made by the province over the years.

She said that the centennial fete highlights unity in diversity among lumads, Christians and Moros which have made the Province a land of harmony.

Kalivungan Street Dance

Kalivungan Street Dance

Part of the month-long festivity are home-grown sports activities to showcase Cotabato’s great outdoors with the Lumba Anay sa Salba Bida, an 8-km river tubing challenge through the Alamada-Libungan River in Alamada and the Lumba sa Pulangi, a regatta of dugout wooden canoes in Carmen.

Lumba sa Pulangi

Lumba sa Pulangi

Exotic Moro music also echoed as Maguindanaoans displayed their artistry through the “kulintang” brass percussion ensemble in the Kapagana Festival held in Pikit. Literally meaning to welcome or entertain, the cultural event included the Kulentangan Extravaganza and the native game Sipa sa Manggis.

Kulentangan Extravaganza

Kulentangan Extravaganza

Culminating the monthlong merry-making is the Street Dancing Showdown last Sept. 1 at the Provincial Capitol Grounds in Amas, Kidapawan City to mark the Province’s Centennial Day.

Municipal contingents rendered contemporary interpretations of lumad and Muslim dances, with tribes from neighboring provinces which used to be part of the Empire Province taking part.

Regarded as an ecotourism getaway, Cotabato forms part of the Department of Tourism’s “12th Paradise” which promotes South Central Mindanao’s cultural, adventure and natural attractions.

Its major tourist spot is the KMM Eco-tourism Triangle, composed of Kidapawan City, and Magpet and Makilala towns, which are the gateways to the 10,311-foot Mt. Apo National Park, the country’s tallest peak.

Venado Lake at Mt Apo National Park

Venado Lake at Mt Apo National Park

The Philippine Eagle’s sanctuary, the area abounds in exotic flora and fauna and is a true-blue mountaineer’s ultimate climb. Most of its ascent points are nestled in Cotabato.

A favorite access point is the mystic Moncada folk religious community at the New Israel Eco-Park in Makilala. The upland village has a 2.3-kilometer two-line zipline, reputedly the longest in Asia and treats one to an exhilarating zip through hills and valleys.

Motocross Race in Makilala

Motocross Race in Makilala

Asik-Asik Falls, tucked in the hinterlands of Alamada town is the poster image of the province because of its rejuvenating and mesmerizing curtain-like icy waters which pours out from the rocks on a cliff.

Asik Asik Falls in Alamada, Cotabato

Asik Asik Falls in Alamada, Cotabato

An emerging historical spot is Fort Pikit, located on a hilltop in Pikit town built in 1893 as a fortress. Made up of stone masonry which offers a commanding view of the vast plains and rivers from where Moros mounted raids against Spanish posts.

It was also used extensively during the American Occupation and figured prominently during World War II. It is undergoing restoration after being declared a national historical landmark by the National Historical Commission in 2011.

Fort Pikit

Fort Pikit

Cotabato’s mountainous contour has also gifted it with an expansive cave systems in the Kulaman watershed in the village Pisan in Kabacan town is a potential getaway for spelunking and canyoning.

The point of entry is Usok Cave, a short river cave which leads into a series of 17 cascades and chambers deep into the dense jungles of the town. The lush tropics and the occasional natural pools formed by the waterfalls and subterranean streams provide inviting respites throughout the long trek.

Usok Cave in Kabacan

Usok Cave in Kabacan

Meanwhile, fruit lovers will find the province an agri-tourism and agro-industrial haven because of its sprawling animal farms, eco-parks and vast plantations of tropical fruits such as durian, marang, pomelo and mangosteen where one can feast on fresh exotic delights to their hearts’ contents.

Tropical fruits stall

Tropical fruits stall

A century hence, the Empire Province is still as enigmatic as before.


Cultural Fest relives memory of Sultan Kudarat

One Muslim leader stands tall in Philippine history for his defense of the Islamic faith and the territorial integrity of Mindanao against Spanish colonizers—Mohammad Dipatuan Kudarat, more popularly known as Sultan Kudarat.

Born in circa 1590 somewhere in present-day Maguindanao, this legendary Muslim chieftain ruled his sultanate from 1619 to 1671 and his reign was considered as a golden age in Mindanao.

He defended Mindanao from Spanish forces and invaded ports in Jolo and Zamboanga, forcing the Spaniards to abandon them. Unable to conquer him, the Spanish governor general signed a peace treaty with him paving the way to freedom in trading and allowing some friars to build churches. He refused to be converted to Christianity, but expressed belief in religious freedom.

He was a virtuous leader who embodied the idea of unity, hramony and freedom among the diverse peoples scattered throughout its Sultanate. By the time of his death, Kudarat was considered apandita, i.e., a learned man in religious matters.

So when the northern portion of the empire province of Cotabato was split into three in 1973 by then President Ferdinand Marcos, one portion could be named to none other than the legendary freedom fighter.

Thus, the province of Sultan Kudarat was born which embraced 12 municipalities with Isulan as the seat of government. Tacurong, the crossroad commercial town of the province, was converted into a component city in 2000.

The Sultan’s golden rule was once more relived as the province recently celebrated the recent Kalimudan Festival to mark its 29th founding anniversary. Now on its 14th staging Kalimudan is coined from the Maguindanaoan word “limud” which means “to gather, to meet and collect” or “limu” which means blessing.

The whole term therefore denotes a celebration of blessings and harmony to put to the fore the bounty of Mindanao as the “Land of Promise” and gather the tri-people of the province—the Christians, the Muslim tribes and the indigenous tribes of T’Bolis and B’laans—in one grand convergence.

The locus of the festivity is Battle of Festivals which also drew delegations from the neighboring provinces of Maguindanao and South Cotabato to share their local culture. Topping the dance showdown is perennial winner Bambad National High School of Isulan with their rendition of Hamungaya Festival.

Governor Suharto Tan Mangudadatu, Al-Haj, said that the 11-day provincial fete which bore the theme “Larawan ng Pagkakaisa, Kapayapaan at Kaunlaran highlighted its being a showcase of unity, peace and progress despite the negative public impression.

A Maguindanaoan Datu, Mangudadatu noted that Kalimudan is an instrument to perpetuate the inter-racial harmony and progress espoused by Sultan Kudarat himself.

He added that with its rich cultural heritage, diverse agricultural produce and unique physical wonders, the province has the ingredients for being an emerging eco-cultural tourist spot in South Central Mindanao or Region 12.

Sultan Kudarat takes pride in its pre-colonial civilization evident in the archaeological implements unearthed in the towns of Lebak, Kalamansig and Columbio. These ancient finds are housed in the provincial museum and tourism office at the stately Capitol complex in Isulan.

Nature lovers can get awed by the diversity of avian life at the Baras Bird Sanctuary in Tacurong City, the magnificent cave systems of Sen. Ninoy Aquino, and the Pangadilan Falls of Columbio.

Water lovers, meanwhile, can frolic in the fine sand beaches of Lebak and Kalamansig, the idyllic Palimbang and Magnao islands of Palimbang, or the rejuvenating cold and hot spring waters of Marguez Resort in Esperanza.

The province is also a potential agri-tourism site with its palm plantations and oil mills in Isulan and traditional muscovado sugar mills in Pres. Quirino.

Mangudadatu concluded that with its natural and human resources, Sultan Kudarat will be a frontier area for tourism and economic development to relive the glory days of the legendary chieftain it was named after.

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Baybay in the Sweet By and By

“In the sweet by and by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore.”

When hymnwriter Fillmore Bennett wrote these well-loved lyrics in 1868, little did he know that his classical work would not just be referring to the Great Beyond prepared by the Almighty.

Down south in Leyte is the beguiling city of Baybay which is likewise characterized in the song.

A host of apocryphal stories abounds how the city got its name. But the most logical explanation is that the town has the longest coastline in Leyte province, and common sense dictates that it be named “Baybay” which literally means “beach”.

It goes without saying that its major tourist magnet is its beach which will captivate every stranger on the shore.

Baybay may not be as popular as the well-known white sand island beaches, but what it offers is its natural charm away from the madding crowd.

To put to the fore its coastal bounty, the city recently celebrated the Binaybayon Festival , a thanksgiving ritual influenced by the traditional Waray curacha dance. Coinciding with the patronal feast, the festival is also inspired by the townfolk’s pastoral way of life with the street dances depicting the various stages of the planting and harvest seasons.

The festival was incepted when Baybay was declared a component city of Leyte in 2007 to showcase the strides it has made in economic progress and tourism development.

Tourists can expect more than the usual sight-seeing trips, just as Baybay’s tagline states—a  “City of Discovery, Beauty and Serenity”.

Sandwiched by the mighty Pangasugan mountain ranges, the tranquil Camotes Sea and comely Camotes islands, Baybay offers the allure of both worlds. This experience can be had at the Visayas State University, a sprawling educational enclave which has earned the moniker “resort university” because of its enviable beach-front location.

One of the country’s biggest agricultural schools, VSU is a vital component of the city’s blossoming agro-industrial tourism.

The city also takes pride in its 13,820-hectare coconut plantation, the biggest in Eastern Visayas, making it the home of two world-class coconut oil factories and a pulp paper exporter.

Baybay is also Leyte’s de facto “heritage city” due to its well-preserved American-era ancestral houses. Visitors can walk around the heritage lane which will transport them back in time as they visit the antediluvian homes which have become “living museums”.

As part of its expansion, the city is reclaiming a nine-hectare new central business district which will house the public market and transport terminal, a P200 million sports complex, a hotel, fishport, fishing area, a shopping mall, and a tent city garden park.

These developments will offer a front row seat to a romantic sunset while munching on the local tasty lechon manok (chicken barbecue).

In the city’s outskirts is the wind-swept upland village of Lintaon which affords guests a breath-taking view of the city and the mountain ranges. The area is ideal for a zipline or cable car park, a retreat center, Stations of the Cross, or a back-to-the-basics nature camping grounds.

The more adventurous can explore its cavernous chambers of Lintaon Cave, dip at the rejuvenating waters of Bakwitan Falls, paddle at Ambacan River, or trek Mt. Pangasungan.

With its beauty and serenity, Baybay is indeed a sweet by and by.

Ceboom: Cebu’s new cities on the rise

Cebu City—When Cebu City earned the moniker “Ceboom” in the 1990s because of its economic and tourism boom, progress began spreading in the neighboring towns giving birth to new urban centers. Ceboom did not only refer to the Queen City of the South, but to the whole province of Cebu.

Among the towns to ride the unprecedented wave of development are Bogo, Naga and Carcar which were declared cities in 2007, and whose cityhood status were affirmed by the Supreme Court last year.

Bogo: The Place to Go

Located in the province’s northern portion is Bogo, the hub for trade and commerce, agri-business, education, fishery and aquaculture, and transportation of 10 towns in Cebu’s fourth congressional district.

The growing trade and industry led to Bogo’s expansion, says Mayor Celestino Martinez Jr.. The public market was moved to a bigger area, portions of the shoreline had to be reclaimed, and a new business center had to be created.

New Bogo City Hall under construction

Sports complex turned supermarket

Just like the proverbial northern star, this new city has been a beacon of progress to its neighboring towns.

Due to its ideal location, Bogo has been chosen to be Cebu’s northern gateway through the Polambato Roll-on-Roll-off Port, which is undergoing a long-range expansion program to make it capable of accommodating more and bigger ships to declog the ports in Cebu City.

The port connects to the provinces of Leyte and Masbate, and all the way to Manila through the Strong Republic Nautical Highway.

Polambato Wharf in Bogo

The city boasts of the biggest livestock market in the province, thanks to the city’s ports.

Adjacent to the Polambato port is a 40-hectare land envisioned to form part of the planned Special Economic Zone for light and medium industries.

Due to its rapid urbanization, Bogo has put up a new sprawling city center in Bgy. Cayang along the provincial highway to house the new government and business district. Seeing the potential of the new CBD, retail giant Robinson’s Mall has reportedly acquired 10 hectares which will be northern Cebu’s commercial recreational

Tourism-wise, the city is getting known for its inland resorts, religious sites and the rock-of-ages islet of Capitancillo, formerly a lighthouse, which is now a protected marine sanctuary.

It is also a vital transit point to the resort islands of Bantayan and Malapascua, as well as Kalanggaman in Palompon, Leyte which are all noted for their fine sand beaches and dive sites.

Moreover, Bogo is being eyed as a retirement haven because of its hidden coves and natural ambiance.

Naga: Industrial Hub south of Cebu

Situated 21 kilometers from Cebu City is the City of Naga, dubbed as the “Industrial Hub south of Cebu” because of the presence of vital industries.

Even before its elevation into a city, Naga has been an industrial town with the 147-MW Salcon Power Corp. coal-fired plant and Apo Cement Corp., which produces 4,000 metric tons of cement daily. The latter also has the distinction of being the country’s biggest factory and supplied cement to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Bolstering Naga’s industrial status was the opening last year of the KEPCO Philippines Corp. (KEPHILCO) 290-MW Circulating Fluidized Bed Combustion (CFBC) thermal plant.

A government-to-government economic cooperation between Korea and the Philippines, the project is under a new scheme of a merchant power plant, characterized by power sales contracts (PSC) with distribution utilities and electric cooperatives.

The city’s other major industries include Kyocera Crystal Device, Kinseki Philippines Inc., Rikio Southeast Asia, Pryce Gases, FSP Oxy & Acet Inc. and MRC Allied Industries. This is supported by livestock and poultry farms and agro-industries such as Bounty Agro Ventures, Daily Fresh Foods, and Cebu Sherilin Agro-Industrial Corp.

Naga City Baywalk with the Kepco thermal plant in the background

According to Mayor Valdemar Chiong, the city’s exponential growth has improved the delivery of basic social services such as health care, education, public safety and sanitation under his Vision and Leadership 20/20.

Naga’s income has surpassed the P 100 million annual income mark, making it par with some of the country’s medium-sizes cities.

The city now boasts of a modern city hall complex, a new sports coliseum, a picturesque Baywalk Park, and a material recovery facility which recycles the solid wastes of Naga and neighboring towns.

Naga City Hall

Naga City Sports Complex

Moreover, it also has the bragging right of having a sports complex being bought by a local retail giant to be converted into a supermarket, perhaps the only one of its kind in the country.

Carcar: Heritage City of Cebu

Carcar is an eclectic city which combines old world charm and the potentials of a new and emerging urban center.

Acknowledged as the Heritage City of Cebu, Carcar is famed for its picture perfect structures which have withstood the ravages of time. There is the Greek-Orthodox style inspired Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria, its rows of colonial Spanish and American period houses; the art deco Carcar City Museum, the city plaza, and the Carcar rotunda.

Carcar Museum

Carcar City College

As beautiful as these heritage sites are, the city refuses to be stuck in the past with its strides to modernity, with its light steel industries, agribusiness ventures, commercial and retail establishments of known brands such as Jollibee, Mercury Drug, Gaisano, LBC and M Lhuillier.

Its local economy is propelled by its noted shoe making industry, wood craft, and as we;; as native delicacies like their famous chicharon (pork crackling), ampao (sweetened rice crispies) and bucarillo (colored coconut strips) which have found their way into the international market.

Mayor Nicepuro Apura said that Carcar city hopes to cash in on the influx of tourists brought about by its proclamation as a Heritage City and its award-winning Kabkad Festival which won honors in the province-wide Pasigarbo Festival.

Because of its location as a convergence point in southern Cebu, Carcar is constructing a diversion road which will bypass the busy city center. Apura added that once completed, the road project will further spur economic activities in the barangays outside the poblacion.

Batac and Tabuk: A tale of two (new) cities

If famed novelist Charles Dickens is to contextualize in contemporary Philippine setting his well-loved 1800s novel “A Tale of Two Cities”, he would perhaps be talking about two new northern cities on the rise—Batac, Ilocos Norte and Tabuk, Kalinga.

Proclaimed as component cities in 2007, and whose status was affirmed in 2011 by the Supreme Court, these new urban centers share many things in common, aside from their arduous paths to cityhood.

Located on both sides of the mighty Cordillera mountain range, these two new cities are havens for culture, agribusiness, tourism, and good governance.

Known as the “Home of Great Leaders”, Batac is acknowledged for producing leaders who have made indelible imprints in the country’s history, and a trip to the city is incomplete without a visit to the landmarks erected in their honor.

Batac Plaza

Marcos Presidential Center

Aglipay Shrine

Aglipay Maosoleum

Memorialized in its shrines are former President Ferdinand Marcos, Bishop Gregorio Aglipay, founder of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente which was borne out of our libertarian struggles; and Gen. Artemio Ricarte, the only leader who figured in the 1896 Philippine Revolution, the Filipino-American War and World War II.

Another must-stop is the Empanadaan Center where one can feast on the tastiest empanada, longanisa and pansit in the Ilocos region and shop for home-made souvenirs and food products. Located in the heart of the city, the building affords guests a view of the Marcos Presidential Center, the Immaculate Conception Church, the picturesque Riverside Park, and the spic and span plaza.

Empanada cooking

Empanada Festival

Empanadaan has encouraged a culture of entrepreneurship in the food business because of its most-sought after culinary fare which draws diners from all over the Ilocandia. Because of this, Batac has instituted the Empanada Festival every June 24 to mark its cityhood day. The young fest which depicts the cottage industry of empanada making, barely four years old, topped the first province-wide Tan-ok ni Ilocano Festival held in November 2011.

A landlocked city with no major river system, Batac makes use of their ingenuity by constructing a series of hilltop Small Water Impounding Projects (SWIP) dams to irrigate their farmlands. These mini-dams also double as aquaculture farms for freshwater fish, such as the exotic pangasius.

Magnuang SWIP Dam

Surrounded by lush vegetation, the SWIP dams are envisioned to be eco-tourism sites where locals and guests alike can go boating, fishing, picnicking, and perhaps zip-lining once the cables are put in place.

Along with the Mariano Marcos State University, the National Tobacco Authority, and the SWIPs, Batac is an ideal agri-tourism site where visitors can get a crash course on aquaculture 101, as well as the age-old tobacco industry which date back to the Spanish era.

Just like the typical Ilocano noted for its industry and frugality, Mayor Jeffrey Jubal Nalupta said that the city is taking to the next level the Department of Trade and Industry’s One Town, One Product (OTOP) program. He said that Batacenos have adopted the “One Barangay, One Product” (OBOP) battlecry to maximize the use of indigenous resources, such as the vegetable-fortified pancit noodles which is a local staple, which is perhaps next to rice.

Other OBOP goodies which will soon hit the local market are mango delicacies, rice crispies, camote chips, and tomato jam, among others, which will make Batac a foodie’s haven.

For a dose of adrenaline, there is Everland Resort which has two 65 and 35-foot high ziplines, 210 and 90 meters long, respectively, a swimming pool, and various recreational facilities.

Looking forward to the influx of tourists, Batac is building the three-story City Inn.

Due to its good governance practices, it has been given the Seal of Good Housekeeping by the Department of the Interior and Local Government in recognition of its efforts in advancing accountability and transparency.

Situated on a plateau in the Cordillera region is Tabuk City, perhaps among the remaining frontier cities and best-kept secrets in the country. The sprawling city by the mighty Chico River is the provincial capital of Kalinga and also during the undivided Kalinga-Apayao province up to 1995.

Tabuk City Hall

It can be reached through a scenic zigzag one-hour ride from Tuguegarao City. Due to its strategic location, it is the hub of culture, tourism, and trading, serves as jump-off point to the equally alluring frontier spots in the province.

Due to its elevated terrain, nature has gifted the city numerous vantage points where guests are treated to an awe-inspiring vista of the river’s meandering waters and the splendor of Cordillera’s ranges.

For a taste of indigenous lifestyle, a visit to barangay Naneng is a must. Sandwiched by the mountains and the river, it is considered as Tabuk’s “heritage village” and showcase of Kalinga tribal culture despite the onset of modern living. Tribe members have preserved their folkways and traditions, and put on their intricately-handwoven native apparel on special occasions to dance the customary “pattong” along with the brass gangsa (gongs).

Stylized traditional Kalinga houses

Authentic Kalinga tribal paraphernalia

Kalinga hand-woven items

Some of them still possess ancient beads, pottery, paraphernalia and adhere to tattoo art which are status symbols in the community.

The barrio is also home to the St. Joseph’s Parish, the oldest Catholic church in the province founded by Belgian missionary priests in the 1950s, who are buried in the compound.

But perhaps, Tabuk’s claim to fame and major tourist magnet is Chico River white-water rafting adventure, the first and the best of its kind in the country.  Discovered in the late-1990s, the river boasts of a Class 4 rapids which can be classified as world-class and extreme class for paddlers.

True-blue adventurers from all over the globe converge in Tabuk during the middle to the latter part of the year to experience the thrill of riding its raging waters, unparalleled in any part of the Philippines and perhaps, in Asia.

Chico River

Chico River whitewater rafting

Chico River Irrigation Dam

Mayor Ferdinand Tubban at the Dalimuno View Deck

Mayor Ferdinand Tubban said that they will soon unveil new attractions to make the city a nature and culture getaway. Among these he said are Malalao Hills, Banga-Banga Falls, and the Gapang Canyon Pool, which will surely delight nature lovers.

He added that with their recent elevation into a city, Tabuk will be able to harness the full potentials of their natural wonders by putting in place the necessary support infrastructure.

Currently, the city has homey boutique hotels which affords guests basic amenities and the touch of country living.

Tubban also noted that the city is getting known for its aromatic coffee upland and civet cat coffee, locally known as musang or alamid brew, regarded as among the world’s best and most expensive.

They also take pride in their upland “unoy”, an organic red rice widely sought by health buffs who don’t want to dispense with the staple grain.

In terms of governance, Tabuk was given the Galing Pook Award last year for its Matagoan Bodong Consultative Council, a unique peace and order program rooted in the Kalinga tribal tradition, which was institutionalized by the local government.

Indeed, if Charles Dickens is alive today, he will surely find Batac and Tabuk worthy of his tale.

Go East: New cities on the rise

Things are certainly looking up in Eastern Visayas Region with the ascension into cityhood of three urban centers—Baybay, Borongan and Catbalogan. Once regarded as among the poorest regions in the country,  it is slowly shedding its poor man’s image with the exponential growths in the field of tourism, investments, governance and pump priming of the local government to make these new cities worthy of their calling.

Baybay in the Sweet Bye and Bye

Situated at a vital crossroad on Leyte’s western coast is Baybay, the biggest municipality in Eastern Visayas, and regarded as the agro-industrial center of the province.

“Baybay takes pride in its 13,820-hectare coconut plantation, the biggest in region 8, making it the natural choice for the site of two world-class coconut oil factories and a pulp paper exporter,” says Mayor Carmen Cari, who also sponsored the Baybay cityhood bill when she was congressman in 2001.

Baybay City Plaza

She jocularly said that they have been “using their coconut”, literally and figuratively, to boost the city’s economic standing with the presence of Visayas Oil Mill Inc. and SC Global Coco Products Inc. which generate thousands of jobs and income opportunities for Baybayanons.

SC Global is the world’s largest producer of organic coconut oil which exports 6,000 metric tons a month under the Bio Coco brand. The wholly-Filipino owned firm aims to double the production next year. It will also pump in a fresh P 200 M investment for organic coco water, dessicated coconut, and virgin coconut oil to cash in on the growing global demand for healthy products.

Meanwhile, Specialty Pulp Manufacturing Company exports security paper commonly used in foreign currencies, specifically in the Japanese yen, because of the abundance of abaca fiber in the Samar and Leyte.

Cari said that the city currently generates an annual local income of P 60 million, and they expect to surpass the P100-million mark once the five-year tax holidays granted to investors expire next year.

As part of its expansion, Baybay is reclaiming a nine-hectare new business center which will house the public market and transport terminal, a P200 million sports complex, a hotel, fishport, fishing area, a shopping mall, and Tent City Garden Park.

Plaza Rizal Obelisk in Baybay

Perspective of new Baybay central business district

Also in the pipeline is the construction of a new city hall and a diversion road to decongest the city center.

Moreover, an Australian firm has also proposed a roll-on, roll-off (Ro-Ro) ferry service to improve its logistics connectivity to Cebu and the rest of Central Visayas.

Among the city’s bragging rights is its being the Philippines’ first recipient of the German International Cooperation Agency (GIZ) Local Regional Economic Development (LRED) grant which led to the creation of the Baybay Tourism and Investment Promotion Office and an investment code to aggressively market the fast-growing city.

Tourism-wise, Baybay is being positioned as agro-industrial educational center because of the presence of these plants, as well as that of Visayas State University, one of the country biggest agricultural schools and is sometimes called “resort university”.

With long stretches of fine sand beaches facing the tranquil Camotes Sea and the legendary Pangasugan mountain ranges as its natural frontiers on the west and east, respectively, it will soon be a resort city in the sweet bye and bye.

Baybay Boulevard and seaport

Baysay Borongan

If the adage “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” still holds true today, Borongan, capital city of Eastern Samar, is a hands-down winner.

For several years now, this clean and green city led by Mayor Maria Fe Abunda has adopted the “Baysay Borongan” way of life by making their sprawling territory clean inside and out.

Borongan Cathedral

With a land area of 58,289 hectares, 15,669 of which are forests, Borongan has the rare accolade of being a virtual city in a forest. The city allots some P 6 million annually for the protection of this natural resource and it hopes to receive incentives from United Nations environmental bodies for preserving their forests to help reduce carbon footprints.

Given its God-endowed resources which are largely untouched, Borongan is cut out to be a nature’s playground.

Situated by the Pacific seaboard, it is among the emerging surfing spots which offers a unique dose of adrenaline to the hardy and hardened surfer. Because of its four-hour distance to the nearest airport in Tacloban City, it is among the rare places where you can have a beach, a surf spot and a world unto your own.

Off the mainland is the islet of Monbon, a marine sanctuary, which is being eyed as a day function and recreation area by the city government. Across it is the bigger island barangay of Ando which is known for its fine sand Patigayon Beach and series of caves which are yet to be explored.

Mondon Island in Borongan

Patigayon Beach in Ando Island

Pirates’ Cove Resort in Borongan

Various community-based resource management (CBRM) programs have been organized in Ando, as well as in the adjacent Divinubo island to mobilize locals as stakeholders in environmental protection and frontliners in the emerging eco-tourism industry.

Due to its mountainous terrain, Borongan is gifted with alluring cascades tucked in the forest’s heartland. The long and challenging treks to the waterfalls of Pangi, Pahungaw, Mono, and Tagpuyukan are well worth it with their rejuvenating waters and the lush biodiversity of the environs.

Pangi Falls in Borongan

Abunda said that the city underwent a fiscal housecleaning which resulted in higher local income without imposing new taxes, due  to efficient revenue collection. She said the city government private-public partnership projects for the construction of a slaughterhouse,  sanitary landfill, a bypass road and other infrastructure to cater to the growing population.

With the ongoing rehabilitation of the airport that will make the city and the rest of Eastern Samar more accessible, local officials are confident that tourists will discover that Borongan is indeed more fun place for business and leisure.

Pattaraday: A celebration of Character and Unity

E Pluribus Unum. Out of Many, One.

Just like the unofficial motto of the United States of America, this seems to be the message being imparted by City of Santiago in Isabela as it showcased character and unity in diversity in the Pattaradday Festival, a unique confluence of cultures and influences, in this crossroad in the Cagayan Valley.

“Pattaradday unifies the city’s 14 ethno-linguistic groups and focuses on the unity despite the artistic and cultural diversity of the people,” says Santiago City Mayor Amelita Navarro who inaugurated the first festival in 2000.

Pattaradday Fest

The Ibanag word for unity, Pattaradday was initiated by civic leaders, the art community, and the city government to showcase local identity and Santiago’s origins.

The city is also home to Muslim, Chinese and Indian minorities, and a bustling art community.

The festival’s locus was the Grand Character Parade which highlighted Santiago’s recent declaration as a character city.  A local government unit is declared a “character town or city” if it integrates the development of the people’s moral values in governance.

Generosity character float

Character Float from Dinalungan, Aurora

Navarro said the city emphasizes prayerfulness, obedience, humility, perseverance, punctuality, honesty, responsibility, generosity, contentment, and forgiveness in its programs.

The event also showcased Santiago’s trademark “La Gran Batalla” dance based on a Moro-Moro dance tradition depicting St. James The Apostles’ conquest of the Moors. The dance became the subject of research and performance of the famed Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group and won acclaim in an international in Moscow in the 1980s.

Gran Batalla with St James

The festival also coincided with the 17th cityhood day to celebrate Santiago’s march to progress.

To perpetuate the spirit of unity and character among the city’s townsfolk, she said that the Pattaradday Foundation was formed comprising of private and government sector representatives.

Adding color to the festivity were visiting festival dancers from Ibon Ebon of Candaba, Pampanga; Pandan Festival of Mapandan, Pangasinan, Panagbenga of Baguio City; Pindangan Fest San Fernando City, La Union; Dinalungan, Aurora; and Northern Luzon University in Dagupan City.

Dumagat tribesman from Aurora

Navarro said that the success of the Pattaradday indicates that peaceful coexistence and unity in diversity is possible if it is the common aspiration of the people and the government promotes it.

Because of its rich historical heritage, the festival was named three-time Best Tourism Event from 2006 to 2008 Awardee by the Association of Tourism Officers of the Philippines (ATOP) and was elevated to its Hall of Fame.

She pointed out that because of the spirit of amity, the city has bagged major awards in governance and environmental protection, and chosen venue for national cultural events.

Visitors can take a peek at the soul of the city at Balay na Santiago, the city’s museum, and tourism office and cultural center which houses ethnographic displays, an art gallery and antique furniture and home accessories from prominent families.

Antique furnitture at Balay na Santiago

Ethnographic display at Balay na Santiago

Mayor Amelita Navarro at Balay na Santiago


Balay also serves a refuge to visiting visual artists as part of Santiago’s art exchange program.

Situated in the heart of Isabela, Santiago is the service center, agro-industrial and commercial hub of Cagayan Valley, and the first town to be converted into an independent component city in the region.

Regarded as a melting pot in north Luzon, the city is a transit point to Cagayan and Quirino. It can be reached via Cauayan Airport with daily flights by Cebu Pacific Air, or an eight-hour bus trip by Victory Liner.

Some Enchanted Evening in Sto Domingo

More than half a century before the famed duo of Rodgers and Hammerstein thrilled Broadway with the romantic “Some Enchanted Evening” (from South Pacific), somewhere in the Bicol region a similar musical drama is unfolding.

“Sarung Banggi”, Bicol’s signature love ballad, and among the country’s most well-loved folk songs was composed by Potenciano Gregorio, a musical giant from Libog town (now Sto. Domingo) in Albay, 12 kilometers from Legazpi City.

Sto Domingo town plaza

Sto Domingo Church

The song which literally means “one night” tells about an enchanted evening encounter between a love-struck man and a lovely provincial lass. Using poetic courtship language, just like in the Broadway musical, a love affair flourished in an age of innocence in a most romantic setting.

Completed on May 10, 1910, the song was premiered three months later in the town fiesta of Guinobatan, birthplace of the composer’s wife.

Original scores of Potenciano Gregorio compositions

Gregorio arranged the song for band in 1918 and was performed by Banda de Libog, the municipal brass band and was arranged for symphony orchestra in 1930.

Gregorio joined the famed Philippine Constabulary Band under Col. Water Loving and was given the rank of corporal. He was named the band’s representative to the 1939 San Francisco World Expo in the United States but died of pneumonia en route to the event.

He was buried at the La Loma Cemetery in Caloocan and was almost forgotten after more than six decades.

Potenciano Gregorio portrait

Through the years, the song found itself in the soundtracks of various movies, productions, concerts and TV commercials (the most recent of which is the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office ad) making it the trademark Bicol song. Because of this musical hit, Bicol is perhaps the only region in the country which can claim to having a regional folk song which captures the character and aspirations of its people.

This rich musical tradition was immortalized as the municipality of Sto. Domingo held the Sarung Banggi Festival last May to celebrate of Gregorio’s 131st birthday and the 101st anniversary of the song’s composition.

Sto. Domingo mayor Herbie Aguas said the festivity showcased Gregorio’s musical legacy and the town’s gift of music.

Lolo Poten, as he is fondly called, is also credited for composing a series of “dotoc” or religious music used for the May-time Santacruzan in collaboration with his brother, as well as a song which tells of the seemingly endless rumbling of Mayon Volcano, on whose feet the town is situated.

Now on its ninth edition, the event was highlighted by an evening street parade with participants interpreting Sarung Banggi through folk dance.

Alay kay Lolo Poten - Birthday concert for the composer

Sarung Banggi evening street parade

Sarung Banggi cultural show

A musical presentation and reunion was hosted by the Gregorio Clan on May 19, Potenciano’s birth anniversary, showcasing talented descendants of the late composer.

To give the song a contemporary twist, a singing contest was held where participants performed modern variations of Sarung Banggi.

Aguas said that because of Gregorio’s monumental contribution, Sto. Domingo has been named by Albay governor Joey Salceda as the art and culture center of the province.He said that plans are afoot to form musical ensembles and visual arts group to make the town a repository of music and other forms of art.

His remains were exhumed in May 2005 led by Aguas, then Albay governor Fernando Gonzales and Congressman Edsel Lagman, and brought home to Sto. Domingo for a municipal vigil and reinterred with military honors. A mausoleum was erected in his honor in 2006 at the town plaza and Gregorio was declared a Municipal Artist by the Sangguniang Bayan (Municipal Council) in 2010.

Potenciano Gregorio Maosoleum

Potenciano Gregorio bust

(With additional photos by Alvic Esplana / Pullout Productions)

Daet celebrates pineapple, Rizal and religion

There’s no historical evidence indicating national hero Dr. Jose Rizal ever set foot in Bicol region, tasted the pineapples or attended a Mass there.

But on this propitious day of June 19, 2011—Rizal’s 150th birth anniversary, four vital events seemed to have conspired in Daet to make the national hero’s natal day four times the fun as it celebrated the 16th Pinyasan Festival, the town’s 430th founding day, and the quadrecentennial of the Roman Catholic Diocese.

Daet Pinyasan Festival

Daet Pinyasan Festival kalesa parade

Inspired by the world’s sweetest and smallest pineapple variety, formosa, Pinyasan highlights Daet’s natural charm and its role as trading post of the sought-after tropical fruit. The event’s highlight is the street dance and float parade which featured dancers dressed in colorful pineapple-themed costumes depicting the pineapple-growing agro-industry of Camarines Norte.

Formosa pineapple variety

Formosa, or the “queen” pineapple abounds in Daet and the neighboring towns of San Lorenzo Ruiz, San Vicente, Vinzons, Talisay and Basud because of its rich soil and vegetation, and sold across the country because of its sweet taste.

The coastal town was founded by Spanish explorer Juan de Salcedo when he arrived in Daet on June 15, 1581 and named the village as such because of its friendly people.

In marking Rizal 150, some 1,500 youths and students joined the wreath laying ceremony at the First Rizal Monument, the first memorial marker built in memory of the martyred national hero. Lolo Pepe would surely be delighted if he was alive as the “Hope of the Fatherland” took the lead in the auspicious event.

Construction of the First Rizal Monument commenced on Dec. 30, 1898 in compliance with the 1898 decree of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, President of the Philippine Republic, to observe Dec. 30 as a national holiday in the “Free Philippines.”

The monument was built through the financial contributions of the townsfolk of Daet Camarines Norte, and the Bicol region, with Lt. Colonels Antonio Sanz and Ildefonso Alegre of the Republican Army leading the undertaking.

The town concluded its grand celebrations last June 24 with the observance of the Feast of St. John the Baptist, one of the first three parishes of the Diocese of Daet founded by Franciscan missionaries in 1611 led by Fr. Francisco de Valdemoro.

St John Church of Daet

The parish, along with the Candelaria Church in Paracale and the St. Peter the Apostle in Vinzons, were among the first Catholic missions to be organized by Franciscans and formed core of the Diocese, which was originally envisioned by Spanish authorities as the seat of the Catholic Church in the Bicol region.

The establishment of the Diocese came a century earlier than the religious devotion to the Naga City-based Our Lady of Peñafrancia, Bicol’s regional patroness which only marked its 300th year in 2010.

Mayor Tito Sarion said the series of events is part of the run-up to Visit Daet Year 2012 which will welcome balikbayans from various parts of the country and the world in a grand reunion and trade and tourism fair.

He said that VDY 2012 will showcase the town as an emerging hub of eco- and heritage because of its diverse travel destinations.

Daet is home to Bagasbas Beach, birthplace of surfing in the Philippines; the 1917 Pabico Mansion, the town’s de facto heritage house; the Daet Heritage Center, the municipal museum and dedicated to National Artist Fernando Amorsolo; Museo Bulawan, the provincial museum, and the spic and span Provincial Capitol Complex.

Daet Heritage Center

As the capital town and commercial center of Camarines Norte, it is also the transit point to the province’s tourist attractions.

Getting There:

  1. Board a bus bound for Daet at Philtranco Terminal in Malibay, Pasay City; Superlines and Daet Lines along Edsa cor. New York St. in Cubao, or at the bus terminal bound for the south fronting Ali Mall.
  2. Fly to Naga City via Air Philippines or Cebu Pacific. From the airport, take a taxi or any public utility going to the central van terminal fronting SM City Naga for your van going to Daet.

Revisiting Rizal’s First Monument

As the whole nation recently paid homage to Dr. Jose Rizal on his 150th birth anniversary, the quaint town of Daet, capital of Camarines Norte province, is abuzz with activities around its own Rizal Monument—the first-ever to be built in honor of the national hero.

This 20-foot stone pylon is bereft of intricate design, but is in every way special because it is a monument to Bicol’s libertarian aspirations.

And perhaps due to its physical distance from the center of celebrations, our own quiet but equally meaningful Rizal 150 commemoration has gone almost unnoticed.

First Rizal Monument

Located by the banks of Daet River, construction of the Rizal Monument commenced on Dec. 30, 1898 in compliance with the 1898 decree of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, President of the Philippine Republic, to observe Dec. 30 as a national holiday in the “Free Philippines.”

It was completed in February 1899, antedating by about 14 years the monument in Luneta, which was inaugurated only in 1912. By virtue of this act, Camarines Norte became the first province to celebrate Rizal Day.

The monument was built through the financial contributions of the townsfolk of Camarines Norte and the Bicol region, with Lt. Colonels Antonio Sanz and Ildefonso Alegre of the Republican Army leading the undertaking.

Designed by Sanz, a Mason, it is composed of a three-tiered stone pylon, its square base surmounted by a two-level triangle, the last one tapering off to a point. The front face contains a black metal slab from the National Historical Commission when it was declared a national historical landmark in 1961.

Miniature of First Rizal Mont at Daet Heritage Ctr

Inscribed on the podium are Rizal’s popular novels—“Noli Me Tangere”, “El Filibusterismo”, and “Morga”, a tribute to Antonio de Morga, author of “Sucesos de las islas Filipinas” in 1609, an important book on the Spanish colonization of the archipelago.

There is an eight-rayed sun on both sides of the topmost triangle, a five-pointed star and the phrase “A Jose Rizal” (To Jose Rizal). But unlike other Rizal monuments, it does not have any his sculptured image.

Oral accounts say that the base contains a time capsule containing the list of contributors to the project. Some quarters and treasure hunters even believe that there were treasures buried around it.

Masons had an important role in putting up the monument because of its pronounced Masonic elements. Add to this the fact that Rizal, Aguinaldo, Sanz and many financial contributors were Masons.

Masonic historian Reynold Fajardo wrote in the periodical Cabletow, “the monument is unquestionably Masonic, the base is a square and is surmounted by a triangle; on the sides of the triangle may be seen the five-pointed star and at the top used to be the all-seeing eye.”

While Rizal has never set foot in Daet, the First Rizal Monument is a source of pride, not only for the townsfolk but also for all Bicolanos, attesting to the people’s reverence for Rizal and his ideals.

Mayor Sarion at float parade by First Rizal Mont

Rizal’s life and ideals inspired Daet’s political leaders and citizenry in declaring the municipality as a “Character Town” in 2002 which upholds universal values as guiding principles in governance and public life.

To emphasize this point, the first public officials of the Province of Camarines Norte and the Municipality of Daet have incorporated the image of the First Rizal Monument in the provincial and municipal insignias.

This will remind elected officials, now and in the future, to govern in accordance with the virtues espoused by Rizal.

Today, this historic monument is a reminder of the heroism and martyrdom of the Great Malayan, and the resiliency of the Bicolanos.

Failure to visit it and pay homage to Rizal when in Daet would be a tragedy of monumental proportion.