See Siquijor and say it ain’t witchcraft

SIQUIJOR—As I write this, I am still here, trying to fulfill twin tasks as a speaker and a traveler.

I am done being part of a team from the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) dispatched to spread the agency’s mantra, “Matalinong Panonood (intelligent viewing)”. This is the MTRCB’s humble contribution to the public to help educate our people from all sectors of society—children and adults, basically.

The MTRCB unflinchingly spreads the word for people to appreciate the beauty of watching movies on the big screen, films, shows and other platforms shown on TV.   This was started by Grace Poe when she was the agency head under the previous administration. It was continued by lawyer Toto Villareal and is now being relentlessly pursued by Ma. Rachel J. Arenas, who was appointed by President Duterte as MTRCB chairman a few months back.

We were warmly received by Gov. Zaldy Villa of this island province that used to be part of Dumaguete City and a subprovince of Negros Oriental. Our heartfelt thanks to the governor, who is only into his second three-year term but, already, his leadership has reaped the rewards of progress as shown by his province’s economic boom, mainly through eco-tourism thrusts. Electricity here is now on a 24-hour basis compared to an 8-hour scheduling for decades, almost.   Water has become potable and bursts continuously, provincewide.

Our fora seminars were held at the Capital Square, Siquijor, Siquijor (thank you, Mayor Quezon), and at the Social Center in San Juan, Siquijor (thank you, Mayor Ocay).

But the one at Siquijor Stage College in Larena town saw an MTRCB record of almost 1,200 in attendance, composed of pupils, high-school and college students, and faculty, where the five BMs (Board Members of the MTRCB) were (ahem!) heartwarmingly applauded to the hilt. Special mention goes to Lawyer Eric Mallonga, who consistently brought the house down with his wit and humor, not to mention his well-delivered extemporaneous masterpieces capped with exacting punch lines almost every step of the way. Take a bow, Eric.

Six-town province

ONE can cover the six-town province by car in only about two hours from the capital town of Siquijor and back. Why? Because the entire intricately carved, circuitous route, with chosen mountainous portions offering a vista of breathtaking scenes of the blue-green sea, is paved all the way. Our two El Grandias with an 11-man MTRCB crew on board virtually flew around the truly enchanted mass of still thickly forested territory boasting of tourist spots unique on each own, like the 400-year-old balete tree.

This capital town alone is lined up by establishments and several commercial banks, including Metrobank, DBP and Land Bank of the Philippines, plushy restaurants owned by foreigners mostly married to local beauties with smiles as wide as the ocean, as evidenced by the comely ladies at Marco Polo, Bell View and Baha Bar joints.

This queer and curiousity-laden island province—witchcraft, folklore and all—reachable by boat and ship in less than two hours from Dumaguete City (fare is only P130 one way by roll-on, roll-off [Roro]) has only three bus trips all day covering the six towns, making for a virtually traffic-free highway as smooth as, well, silk.   At the Siquijor seaport are parked lots of colorfully painted tricycles (all in red) for visitors to rent for eight hours to tour the entire territory—at P1,200 per ride for four passengers.

Must-see places are landmarks like the balete tree, which is the oldest tree at more than 400 years old, with a fish spa beside it where your feet get massaged by tiny fishes, giving you a tingling sensation. They are found in Campalanas, in the town of Lazi.

Then, the three waterfalls in Cambugahay, where you descend on 135 steps to get there. Up to now, my thighs and knees are still aching from the “beautiful punishment” and a down-and-up struggle.

The Cang-Isok house in Barangay. Libo, Enrique Villanueva town (Talingting is its old name, after a local bird), is called the enchanted house and was built by Mariano Tejano in the 1800s. The owners of the wooden, two-story house, are all gone. It stands princely, alone by the sea, and has recently survived, surprisingly yet again, such Supertyphoons like Yolanda, Sendong and Pablo.

Hyundai the only one

AT night, the outer side of the seaside highway is quickly converted into eating joints, making for a romantic dinner by the sea with flickering lights beautifully embellishing everything in sight.   In one place, there is lechon and a fresh catch from the sea for cooking, roasting and grilling.

There are many vehicles today here of different makes. I saw one cement mixer speeding on the highway—but, well, not a single truck present. No wonder the roads are practically pot-free.   And, yes, road-widening on several stretches of the highway is ongoing. Progress, indeed, is at a frenetic pace.

And here’s good news for Hyundai lovers:   A Hyundai dealership is the only car company present here.

So, Hyundai rivals, your move?

PEE STOP Congratulations to the MTRCB team for a job well done in Siquijor.   They include Alyanna Tobia as chief strategist, strict moneybag Rosela Manalaysay, Remigio Tagumpay, Felizardo Tonog Jr., Albert Patani and Lorenzo David, with Nilda Lapuz and Estella Salandanan as our Commission of Audit allies. My high respect and appreciation for Pablo “The Witty Boogie” Reyes IV, Marco Antonio “Bogart The Explorer” Ho and the inimitable Dean/Prof. Roland Tolentino of UP-Diliman, MTRCB Board Members all whose distinctly unique style of delivering their respective pieces had complemented each other—leading to a superbly successful Siquijor joust.   You all made my trip memorable.   Cheers, guys!