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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.