Mimaropa: No ‘Juan’ is an island

In Photo: A participant depicting the Palawan peacock-pheasant

THE Ausans of Mindoro moved to Palawan in the 1970s after the patriarch of the family retired from government service. Paulino Ausan had been assigned to the capital to help combat malaria in the province’s far-flung communities.

Ausan decided that life would be better for his children to start fresh in “the last frontier.” After all, a son had been assigned as head of a forest ranger team in a mountain-protected area, while a daughter had a steady job as a medical technologist in the local Department of Health office. The younger children instantaneously adapted to their new town.

Marinduque Moriones Festival masks

Almost five decades later the clan grew. One even almost became a mayor after being an active leader as barangay captain and pioneer in resort business. Through the years, members of the family had acquired lands and, today, have all assimilated like homegrown Palaweños, even speaking in the native tongue.

It was in Mimaropa—Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan, the five provinces that make up the Southern Luzon Region 4B—where not only the Ausans had made good. The scenario is often replicated over and over by different families in different time frames.

In these islands of almost 3 million people, the cross-pollination of opportunities would inevitably alter people’s fortunes, depending on one’s perseverance and hard work.

Migration benefits

A region composed of islands with no land border with another region, Mimaropa, as a whole, encourages people to cross each other’s borders freely. No island seems to be self-contained and self-sufficient. Here, the exchange of goods and commodities flow unceasingly, island to island.

Mimaropa Region Tourism Director Danilo Intong

“Migration results from the movement of people to areas where their services are needed or where they believe they can avail [themselves of ] better opportunities and resources,” a paper by Marietta Alegre of the National Census and Statistics Office said. “Though it happens to specific sectors of society, it can effect significant changes, not only in size, but also in the composition of population of the areas of origin and destination.”

Migration has been beneficial to Mimaropa communities. Unused lands had been developed. Agricultural productivity improved. Tourism upgrade was felt.

“We want to unite the region, however diverse its individual uniqueness. Most of all, exalt humankind, as each of us does not exist in a vacuum,” Romblon Gov. Eduardo C. Firmalo said. “We are not an island by itself; we all belong to a bigger piece.”

Greater heights

FIRMALO opened the 2017 Mimaropa Festival in Odiongan, Romblon, on November 21 at the town plaza.

“We would like to encourage people of Romblon to learn from each other, especially from their neighbors and, hopefully, vice versa,” Firmalo said. “We want to polish ourselves by learning from each other. When we learn from each other, we shine.”

Endemic to Mindoro, the tamaraw

“The transmigration of ideas in the region has actually worked for Mimaropa to its best interest,” Occidental Mindoro Gov. Mario J. Gene Mendiola said. “It is through ‘Trans-Mimaropa’ that we better ourselves.”

Mendiola cited a professional, for example, who became a Romblon mayor who was originally from his province.

“The inflow of better ideas and influx of professionals contribute to the betterment of Mimaropa,” he added. “I hope it will continue and raise our region to greater heights.”

Rise to prosperity

FIFTY years ago Mimaropa was one of the poorest regions in the country.

Today it is one of the fastest, if not the fastest, growing region in the country, largely due to the increase in output of its domestic industries and cross-border migration. Fishing, agriculture, tourism, mining and oil-production output of natural gas in Palawan, for instance, have upped the region’s economic importance on the national scale.

How is the national government helping Mimaropa in terms of infrastructure and tourism upgrade?

Odiongan Mayor Trina Firmalo-Fabic, for her part, praised the Department of Tourism for its unwavering support. She mentioned the training programs her town has been getting in order to enhance, streamline and improve tourism services in Romblon, in particular.

“They are valuable and we are grateful that these things are often accorded to us,” she said.

The higher production of rice and corn and other crops, livestock and fishery resulted in the accelerated growth in the total agriculture and fishery sector.

The industry sector, which contributed 38.3 percent to the region’s total economy, was the second-largest contributor, next to agriculture. Mining and quarrying contributed 16.6 percent to the total regional economy.

Ten years later Mimaropa is an economic and tourism powerhouse. As of 2015, the population of Mimaropa reached 2,963,360. Palawan has the biggest number with 849,000, followed by Oriental Mindoro with 844,000, Occidental Mindoro with 487,000 and Romblon with 293,000. Marinduque has the smallest with 235,000. Puerto Princesa, the only highly urbanized city, has 255,000. The whole population of the region is 2.9 percent of the total Philippine population.

Today and beyond

TOURISM has catapulted Mimaropa from a “Lonely Planet,” off-the-beaten path profile to a dream destination, especially to people who love nature. Precisely why Danilo Intong, newly appointed Mimaropa regional tourism director, keeps on mentioning the umbrella tagline with pride: “Destination of Choice, Naturally.”

“It was a decision of the RDC [Regional Development Council] where the governors, mayors, and tourism officers of different provinces and cities agreed upon,” Intong said. “My job was to see through the bigger picture. We mapped out the competitive landscape and compared it to other region’s vision.”

Intong had a discerning mind. He saw that it was a statement of a “dream” and that started it—one collective idea, worded correctly and with a marketing strategy and positioning stance.

A presidential appointee in 2016, Intong replaced Minerva Morada and immediately rolled up his sleeves and buckled down to work in mid-October. His background in tourism and credentials run the gamut. From a tourist guide, university teacher for 27 years, passionate advocate of eco-friendly tourism to nationwide Bantay Kalikasan member.

Intong is credited with having developed many successful tourism products focusing on Sorsogon in Bicolandia.

Among his pet projects include the now-famous butanding-watching in Donsol and firefly-watching. He updates himself regularly with global trends in tourism and was one of the first Filipinos to work with World Tourism Organization Secretary-General Talib Rifai.

Mimaropa gem

ACCORDING to Intong, he develops new tourism products by evaluating first the locale.

“It is important to prepare the destination to visitors. I talk to LGUs [local government units], a critical component of my assessment, because their participation and commitment will have an impact on the success of tourism in the area,” Intong said. “Local government officials must have a stake on it. And, mind you, I wouldn’t recommend development if I haven’t seen the place personally.”

He plans to develop more tourism products for Mimaropa throughout his term. Right now, Intong said, he is focusing on Romblon because it is an emerging destination and it is easily accessible from Manila and South Luzon provinces.

“Infrastructure projects are beginning to take shape in Romblon, we want more of that to happen,” he added.

Intong also mentioned that Marinduque could be another Mimaropa gem if it is properly promoted and marketed. “Cruise tourism is perfect for Marinduque and right now,” he said, adding that there are ongoing talks with developers.

To further streamline Palawan as destination of choice, Intong expressed his optimism for the development of southern Palawan, especially Rasa Island in Narra, home of the endangered katala (white cockatoo), the unrivalled bird sanctuary of Ursula Island and the entire Balabac group of islands, to spur growth in that area.

Creative thinking

INTONG acknowledged the 1-million contribution of Palawan to the total Philippine tourist arrival chart and wished that the number would increase by a hundredfold when new markets abroad are tapped through relentless promotional blitz.

Intong is careful in proclaiming empty motherhood statements about his plans for development.

“We should not be doing what everyone is doing. We should think out of the box. If everyone is doing river cruises, we should not be doing the same thing,” he said. “We should think, creatively, of other things because there are other ways of creating new products. One must only have the will and creativity to do it. Otherwise, we’ll end up as copycats.”

He admires local government leaders who have vision and assert their leadership for tourism. He respects officials who know what they are talking about—that tourism must be viable for the community, first and foremost.

“Tourism must serve a purpose socially, environmentally and economically. They are inseparable,” Intong said. “When none of them are present, we are just wasting our time and we will not reap the fruits of our labor.”

5 provinces, 2 cities

ORIENTAL Mindoro is the other half of Mindoro, just a few miles away from Manila.

The province is crisscrossed by rivers and streams, mountains and valleys, lakes and hot springs and many more natural attractions.

Located just a few miles from Manila, it is accessible via the South Luzon Expressway and Port Batangas in Batangas City. Here, one can find the fourth highest mountain in the Philippines, Mount Halcon; and Naujan Lake, the fifth-largest in the country (declared as a protected wetland). Around the vicinity are scenic waterfalls and swamplands that serve as nesting places for waterfowl and migratory birds.

The oldest settlement on the island, called Puerto Galera (port of galleons), was an important stopover for vessels in the famed Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade during Spanish times. With many breathtaking coves and landscapes, it has become Mindoro Oriental’s most famous tourist attraction because of its white-sand beaches and undersea marine gardens that are perfect for diving and snorkeling.

The province is also home to the the Mangyan, a major ethnic group with eigtht sub-indigenous groups that have retained their pre-Hispanic syllabic script, poetry and myths.

Other half

OCCIDENTAL Mindoro is the other half of Mindoro, largely untamed and home to the wonderful Tamaraw.

Endemic to the island, the species bears a close resemblance to the carabao (water buffalo), smaller in size but with shorter and straight V-shaped horns.

The province has a natural luster that even the most jaded traveler cannot ignore. Just off the western coast of Batangas lies its capital of Mamburao. Though San Jose is considered as its commercial center (due to the presence of many banks, cafes, entertainment spots and other business establishments), Mamburao is the official seat of government.

Sablayan is worth mentioning, too. The jump-off point to the world-famous Apo Reef Marine Park is a 34-kilometer reef with a narrow channel dividing it into two lagoon systems. The must-visit marine wonder is also host to white-sand beaches.

Not to be missed is Mount Iglit, a declared national park and forest reservation area. Trekkers to this mountain can get a glimpse of the Tamaraw which lives at the foot of the mountain.

Lubang Island is another place of interest. On this island, Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese soldier, hid for 30 years after World War II, and only surrendered as a prisoner of war in 1974. Another Japanese captain of the Imperial Army, Fumio Nakahira, took refuge in the forests of Mount Halcon, before being found in 1980.

Lucrative export

MARINDUQUE was part of Batangas province when the Spaniards colonized it in 1581. It became part of Mindoro toward the 17th century and figured prominently in the Spanish galleon trade and pre-Spanish trading era. It was declared a separate province when the Americans came.

The small island province sits just below Batangas and a portion of Quezon province. It offers a quaint and laid-back ambiance but is famously identified with the staging of a colorful Holy Week rite. Called Moriones, the tableau depicts Christ’s passion and death.

The province also annually stages a spectacle of other attractions, like the butterfly and carabao festivals. It also has white-sand beaches unknown to many, such as those in Maniwaya and Tres islands. Dainty handicrafts, delicacies and traditional Filipino hospitality are yours to enjoy when you visit this beautiful island.

Marinduque is also one of the best places to visit for heritage sites and old churches; the Boac and Santa Cruz cathedrals are fine examples. They served as refuge centers for Spanish priests and officials during Moro invasions and natural calamities.

Romblon is called the Marble Capital of the Philippines. The quality of marble quarried in this island is a source of pride for the country because it is on a par with the best in the world. It is also a lucrative export valued by sculptors and builders worldwide.

Unspoiled beaches

ROMBLON is rich in other mineral deposits like gold and copper. Composed of three main islands (Tablas, Romblon and Sibuyan), including a cluster of 20 other small islands, Romblon is blessed with some of the best and most unspoiled beaches in the country.

Romblon, the capital of the province with the same name, is a quiet town in a beautiful bay fortified by a 17th-century Spanish garrison. If one takes a ferry that docks at its main port, be prepared to see a landscape that slowly turns into a breathtaking Mondrian painting. No wonder it’s been described as the Lisbon of the Philippines.

Cresta del Gallo in Sibuyan Island is perhaps Romblon’s most stunning island. The sandbar located in a kidney-shaped islet dazzles with the purest of white beach, ringed by a reef rich in marine wildlife.

At almost 7,000 feet above sea level, Mount Guiting-Guiting offers an adventure of a lifetime for mountaineers looking for a tough challenge. It is said to be the most difficult mountain to climb in the Philippines.

Looking for adventure, recreation, natural attractions and exotic festivals? You will always have a grand time with Romblon.

Heritage sites

PALAWAN has been chosen by Conde Nast and Travel and Leisure, two of the world’s respected travel magazines, as “World’s Best Island” a number of times.

Palawan has received countless awards for eco-friendly and sustainable tourism. It actually does not need an introduction.

The province’s unique geographical formations, natural wonders and unique flora and fauna define this paradise. It is here where the most visited islands and attractions in the Philippines are located—El Nido, Coron, Busuanga, Underground River, Honda Bay, Tubbataha Reef, Tabon Caves, Onuk Island and many other jaw-dropping sites.

Palawan has the highest concentration of the most beautiful, undiscovered islands with immaculately white beaches, totaling about 1,780, most of them uninhabited. It is home to one of the world’s largest biodiversity, forest and marine life. No wonder it has two Unesco World Heritage sites and a spot that was declared one of New 7 Wonders of the World.

Puerto Princesa City

THE bustling capital of Palawan province recently rebranded and described itself as, “Where Nature begins and never ends.” How apt.

The city literally nestles in the womb of exhilarating mountain ranges, rivers and hectares of forests made even more charming by the genuine hospitality of its people.

Its newly constructed international airport is a showcase of its beautiful persona, perhaps the best in the Philippines. Come summertime, the city explodes with a riot of white and pinkish colors of the Balayong tree, known as Palawan Cherry Blossoms.

There are many things to do in Puerto Princesa if nature is your cup of tea. You can explore the World Heritage Site Underground River, commune with the rain forests and hundred caves of Sabang, Tagabinet and Cabayugan; get enthralled by their limestone karst caves and cliffs; go Butanding watching in the open sea; be dazzled by firefly-watching, gripped by the events of the past in the War Museum, or simply watch parrots and cockatoos whizz by as you lay on the beachfront of Microtel Wyndham and Aventura Resorts off Canigaran beach.

The city is earthquake-free and outside of the Philippines’ typhoon belt. The main gateway to all points in Palawan, it is also accessible to Cebu and other Western Visayas cities, including new foreign destinations such as Taipei, Kota Kinabalu.

Tourism Night

DUE to its excellent geographical location and port facilities, the city has been dubbed as the Cruise Ship Capital of the Philippines, with some of the world-renowned luxury liners docking at its port regularly.

Calapan City is the capital and gateway to Oriental Mindoro, currently one of only two cities in the Mimaropa region. It serves as the region’s administrative center and, for that matter, the hub of commerce, industry, transport, communication, religious activities and education of the entire province.

One of the major food suppliers in the country, the city is also a major exporter of rice, supplying Metro Manila and major parts of Luzon, making it both an agriculturally progressive city. It has many unspoiled beaches, too, mountain trails, forest; leisure farms and resorts; and hosts a number of rare flora and fauna.

Places of interest here include the Calapan City Zoological and Recreational Park, Verde Islands, Baco-Chico, Aganhao, Silonay islets, Harka Piloto Marine Sanctuary, actively protected by the local government. Given its protected status, Harka Piloto is an ideal site for diving and snorkeling, Bulusan Mountain Trail, Caluangan Lake, Baruyan River, among others.

During the festival’s Tourism Night, the city of Puerto Princesa swept the most awards honoring establishments that have consistently supported tourism growth in their respective city of operation, and the Mimaropa region. Representatives of the city were also crowned Mister and Miss Mimaropa 2017, and Occidental Mindoro won the Street Dance Showdown competition, while Puerto Princesa placed second and Calapan City third.

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Turning Points 2018