FOR the longest time, Ormoc City was mentioned in the same breath as typhoons, earthquakes, and disaster relief. So when an invitation came from newly-elected Leyte Fourth District Rep. Richard Gomez and his wife, Ormoc Mayor Lucy Torres-Gomez, to attend their fiesta, I couldn’t resist. Surely, I thought, there has to be more to this city than all these natural disasters it seemed attached to.
I was not disappointed. Ormoc is a thriving hub of commerce, having attracted investments from major retailers like Gaisano and SM, several commercial banking institutions including China Bank Savings, car dealerships, furnishing companies, name restaurants as well as and home-grown food brands, even as the local government continues to nurture its agriculture-based economy and, now, tourism.
Gomez, who was mayor for two terms before running for congressman last May, attributes the economic growth of Ormoc to its peace and order and liberal investment policies. “We took care of the drug problem,” he says, with the Philippine National Police lending its full support. Investments came because the city had an open-door policy; the local government issues business permits to legitimate investors without tying them to any, uhm, crafty conditions that marked previous administrations.
I would also think the infrastructure investments made by the LGU has made it easier for businesses to develop and thrive. All the roads we passed moving around the city were well-paved, such that key areas, from tourist spots to retail areas, are quickly accessed.
Not content that Ormoc just produces rice, sugarcane, and sweet queen pineapple, Gomez has encouraged the planting of cash crops such as cacao and coffee as well as organic farming. Alto Peak Chocolates, a popular confectionary store in the city, already makes chocolate products using cacao grown by local farms, although most of its ingredients still come from Davao. “We partnered with EDC (Energy Development Corp.) for a coffee and cacao plantation benefiting upland farmers,” says Gomez. EDC, the operator of the country’s largest geothermal power plant, is eyeing the production of 12,000 kilos of coffee and cacao beans per year, once the farmstead is fully operational.
As a tourism attraction, Ormoc has an abundant array of gorgeous scenery—from clean rivers and picturesque lakes, to placid beaches, and lush hills and mountains with chilly, windy climes. “It’s like Hawaii,” says Gomez. We were treated to a light seafood lunch on a floating cottage on the serene and peaceful Lake Danao, located within a natural park. The forest in this natural park is where the Ormocana butterfly is found, a species endemic to the area.
“We wouldn’t have known about this butterfly had Richard not done a cultural mapping of the city,” says Torres-Gomez. “The cultural mapping covered all barangays, and the people helped identify all the unique facets of their towns,” she adds.
The city has a rich heritage dating back from the Spanish era with ruins of old homes inscribed as landmarks, along with the cobble-stoned Puente dela Reina bridge near the old Ormoc City Hall, now converted into a museum. “The building, still with its magnificent architecture, was just standing here, unused. When I became mayor, I decided to repurpose it as a museum,” explains Gomez.
The museum houses artifacts from World War II such as exploded ordnance and artillery found in the area—the city having been the headquarters of the Japanese military forces. It also has curated art pieces from the Gomez couple’s private collection, including Amorsolo portraits and modern pieces by well-established artists. Ongoing is an exhibit of paintings by Ormocano artists.
From its unique land and waterscapes to its rich cultural heritage, Ormoc will also attract the intrepid food tripper for the two delicacies for which it is particularly known: its incredibly tasty lechons, which don’t need any liver sauce—just a dab of a soy-vinegar dip enhances the flavor of the crispy skin and smoked, tangy meat—and its queen pineapples, which may be smaller than the usual pineapples we buy in cans, but are juicy and pack a lot of sweetness.
The city’s first post-pandemic fiesta celebrated these two Ormocanon food products.
The Piña Festival, which coincides with the feast day of the city’s patron saints, Saints Peter and Paul, began last Sunday with a parade of colorful floats, where participants tried to outdo each other in the most unique and colorful creations in honor of the queen pineapple. The day’s festivities were capped with a concert and the coronation of this year’s Piña Festival Queen, the alluring and talented Princess Adonna Ortega Paraiso of STI College.
The next night was the Lechon Kumbira, participated in by various purveyors of the delicious spit-roasted pig, all vying for a chance to win P70,000. I don’t envy the judges of this event, which included some media colleagues; they had to taste 12 lechons in all. The pigs were delectable, for sure, but I don’t think my heart would have stood a chance. I was quite content feasting on the winning porker prepared by Malang’s Lechon Place.
Ormoc manages to blend the new and the old, the modern with folk traditions—making it a unique and engaging destination. There are projects the congressman and the mayora will continue to keep Ormoc on the map of curious tourists and passionate investors, while encouraging the establishment of more home-grown distinctive businesses. As Torres-Gomez promised at her inauguration address last Tuesday, “The best is yet to come!”
Image credits: Stella Arnaldo