Story and photos By Bernard L. Supetran / Special to the Businessmirror
THERE was a time when Calapan, the capital of Oriental Mindoro, was a sleepy port town across Batangas City and served as the gateway to the province.
Even before the Strong Republic Nautical Highway was institutionalized by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, it served the function of being a transit point to southern Philippines.
While thousands of vehicles pass through its roads daily, the municipality was unable to reap the potentials of a port town where goods, passengers and cargo pass through almost round the clock.
But things began to look up in 1998, when it was converted into a component city on March 21 when the residents ratified Republic Act 8475 authored at the House of Representatives by then-Rep. Renato Leviste and signed by President Fidel V. Ramos.
To date, it is the first and only city in the two Mindoro provinces, and the second in the Mindoro-Marinduque-Romblon-Palawan (Mimaropa) region.
The once backwater town slowly gained the attention of the national leadership and major investors as a vital economic hub in the region.
Mayor Arnan Panaligan said Calapan experienced significant improvements in commerce and industry, infrastructure, social services and governance since attaining cityhood.
He said that, in 1999, the first year after its conversion into a city, the local government received close to P300-million internal revenue allotment (IRA), compared to the P50 million it was getting when it was still a municipality. Since then, the annual fund from the national government grew steadily and reached close to P500 million this year.
This amount, he noted, enabled them to improve the delivery of social services and infrastructure projects, and created livelihood opportunities to uplift the economic standing of individual households.
He said that with the increased IRA, they were able to put up the City College of Calapan, one of the country’s few local government-run schools of higher learning that caters to deserving residents.
In anticipation of the urban migration, the city is undertaking socialized housing projects to be slum-free.
“Calapan envisions to be the premier center of investments and agro-industry in the Mimaropa region by initiating and sustaining programs to create an environment conducive to development and progress through transparent and participatory governance,” Panaligan said.
Various Manila-based investors have made their presence felt, which include medium-sized shopping malls, popular food franchises, car dealers, business-process-outsourcing companies and theme parks.
These initiatives haven’t gone unnoticed by national agencies and private groups, and the city’s notable undertakings have been aptly rewarded.
Last year Calapan bagged third place in the eGov Awardee for Excellence in Information and Communications Technology for Local Government Units because of its automated transactions used widely by the public.
In the said award, competing with much bigger and richer highly urbanized cities, Calapan was edged only by Cebu and Davao.
Its ranking in the Cities and Municipalities Competitiveness Index (CMCI) of the National Competitiveness Council of the Philippines rose significantly in 2016-2017, earning it the recognition of being one of the Three Most Improved Cities in Competitiveness.
It was also named No. 2 Most Competitive Component City in Resilience for its outstanding programs in climate-change adaptation and disaster-risk reduction and preparedness.
In 2014 Calapan was elevated to the Hall of Fame of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) for being the country’s most business-friendly city for three consecutive years.
Panaligan pointed out this award is due to the city’s simplified business registration and reasonable taxes.
He added that Calapan’s high competitiveness ranking validates its rapid growth, vibrant economy and best practices in local governance.
With an area of 250 square kilometers. and five islets, it has a vast land for potential beach and inland resorts, boutique hotels, recreational parks, farm-tourism sites, and facilities for large meetings, sports tournaments and special events to make it a convention city.
Panaligan noted the city does not intend to compete with its neighboring municipalities where the natural attractions are located. Puerto Galera, known for its world-class dive spots and white sands, and the scenic Lake Naujan are located just an hour away.
Far from being a stopover, Calapan has a couple of attractions that are worth visiting, should a visitor stay a little longer.
A few minutes away from the poblacion is the Bulusan Nature Park, a 3-hectare mini-zoo, aviary and picnic and camping grounds ideal for outdoor recreational activities.
Beach lovers can hop around the islands of Pulong Malaki and Harka-Piloto, a marine-protected area that is a potential scuba dive and snorkeling site with its crystal-blue waters and rich coral and fish life.
Nature-trippers can unwind at the Silonay Mangrove Conservation and Eco-tourism Park, an ecosystem-based adaptation project thatinvolves reforestation to protect village dwellers from storm surges, rise in sea level and coastal erosion.
Bird-watching, kayaking, boardwalk tour, mangrove planting are among the activities in the 42-hectare mangrove forest. Various exotic fowls have made the mangrove forest their sanctuary. Among these are the Philippine nightjar, pygmy swiftlet, Asian glossy starling, Oriental magpie robin, clamorous reed warbler and the black-naped oriole.
To mark these important milestones, Calapan recently marked its 20th cityhood anniversary through the Kalap Festival, a three-week observance from March 2 to 21, which bore the theme “20 Taon ng Lungsod: Kaunlaran, Kalinga at Malasakit para sa Lahat.”
The highlight of the festivities was the Kalap Festival street-dance parade, which portrayed the city’s humble beginnings during the pre-Spanish period. According to legends, Calapan originated from the word kalap, which means “to gather” tree branches—which was a means of livelihood in the ancient days.
The festival also depicted the town’s rich farmlands and fishing grounds in the street-dance tilt topped by the Canubing National High School.
Celebrations drew to a close with the Araw ng Lungsod Grand Parade led by the city government, the 2018 Natatanging Calapeño Award Gala Night won by educator Julius Gonzales, and the Kalap Fest Street Party series featuring TM Republikaravan. Fringe events included the Kalap Photo Marathon, Kulinarya Cooking and Bartending Competition, a car show and daily sectoral programs.