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.