Thursday, February 8, 2018


By Roger Pe
February 8, 2018
Business Mirror

The three-city tour was fast, ran in clockwork precision, very organized. There was no time for waiting and we didn’t waste time second-guessing what was going to happen next. Inside the blizzard-cold coaster as we began rolling on Edsa, the atmosphere was warm, and surprise, very quiet. Far different from previous tours we’ve attended, where our ears would bleed from people tirelessly talking throughout the entire trip.

I had gingerly slid my back on the seat, ready to coil, and doze off to catch sleep (it was going to be one and half hours travel I was told) when I heard two girls giggling and kept uttering the word “Elpipicheya.” 

On the fourth mention of that strange name, I began to get curious and listened carefully. Were they going to hand out pieces of “pichi-pichi” or “chichiriya”? Did I get it rght, I asked myself again. Afterall, we were heading to Malabon, and you know what the city is known for – glorious ‘pancit’ and other wonderful ‘kakanin”. 

Grabbing my travel bag, I learned that “Elpipicheya” was actually LPPCHEA, acronym for Las Pinas-Paranaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area, the vast, elongated stretch of coastal patch of land off limits to the public before because it was uninhabitable, choked by garbage and had a sensitive ecosystem. It’s the same mangrove forest you see while your airplane descends to Manila. Yes, it is the most beautiful thing that happened to this lonely patch of land, a welcome respite from a sea of buildings that suffocate the metro.

Before LPPCHEA was cleaned and almost vacuumed to the last piece of trash, it was gasping for its last remaining breath to survive. Now, there’s hope. Visitors could soon be flocking to this ‘No Man’s Land’, by boat or by land, to see a once dystopian place now miraculously sprouting different species of Philippine trees, bamboos and shrubs. 

On its shores and branches of abundant trees, around 84 species of migratory and endemic birds have turned them into their habitat. In this oasis, just a stone’s throw from Mall Of Asia and Naia Airport, nature is reasserting itself and telling us, “you need us.” The cycle of life has returned.

Manila’s last natural bastion

In 2004, Mike Lu and members of Wild Bird Club of the Philippines discovered a new birdwatching site along Coastal Road in Paranaque, specifically, an islet ringed by mangroves beside a shallow lagoon that teemed with thousands of birds during low tide. 

They recorded the number of species, and to their amazement, LPPCHEA emerged as the only site in Metro-Manila with the largest on record, while the rest have shrunk to pitifully low.

The following year, WBCP partnered with DENR-NCR to conduct a census of waterbirds flocking in the area. Researchers carried out an in-depth survey and found out that it's home to an amazing rich ecosystem and has a number of avian species. The list would make you fall off your seat.

Among them were Philippine Duck, Yellow Bitern, Black and Grey Night Heron, Great Egret, Western Osprey, Barred Rail, White-Brested Waterhen, Pacific Golden Plover, Marsh Sandpiper, Spotted and Zebra Doves, Philippine Pied Fantail and many more.

Eco-kindred souls have replanted Philippine trees to resuscitate the fledgling lungs of Metro-Manila. Now you see juvenile Kamagong, Narra, Molave, Kamuning, Bignay, Madre Cacao, Malabulak trees abound in the area. They will be become beautiful, sturdy trees in twenty-years time.  Near the beach, where large flocks of herons and egrets rummage for food, there is also a hectare of land devoted to different species of bamboos.

Birdwatchers Lu-Ann Fuentes and Mads Bajarias who also wrote about the importance of LPPCHEA, said: “An increasing number of urban planners are realizing the importance of green spaces in creating livable and sustainable city. Modern cities are investing to preserve and protect their biodiversity hotspots for aesthetic, recreational, disaster-risk reduction and educational purposes. Hongkong’s Mai Po Nature Reserve and Taipei’s Guandu Nature Park are two examples of these that Metro-Manila can emulate.”

The 175-hectare 
site received a global recognition and was declared a wetland of international importance in 2013. A source of pride and joy by its number one protector, Senator Cynthia Villar, LPPCHEA has been getting well-deserved attention in recent years, joining the list of other places in the Philippines recognized by Ramsar.

The Ramsar Convention (on wetlands of international importance, especially as waterfowl habitat) is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands. It is also known as the Convention on Wetlands named after the city of Ramsar in Iran where the convention was signed in 1971.)

Iconic Philippine jeepney

When US soldiers left many Willys jeeps in the Philippines at the end of World War II, they were reconstructed and converted into the “Kings of the Road” we see today – with distinct Filipino design and artistry. Over the years, small local companies started to produce newer versions of them by importing engine parts and reassembling them locally. Since then, they have become part of the Filipino culture.

In Manila, a Las Pinas trip would not be special without a sidetrip to Sarao jeepney manufacturing plant where fleets of multi-colored jeepneys are meticulously handcrafted. The company was a small automotive shop put up by the elder Leonardo Sarao in 1953. A mechanic and former calesa driver, Sarao built his company from a budget of seven hundred pesos to a multimillion corporation. 

Sarao jeepneys eventually ruled the streets of Manila and outnumbered other names by nearly 7 to 1 during its peak, making the name synonymous with the vehicle, eventually becoming it a symbol of Filipino pop culture. 

The Sarao jeepney has a rich, colorful history, among them being exhibited at the Philippine pavilion of the New York World’s Fair in 1964 and traveled from Manila to London and across Europe in 1971, as part of London-Manila Express, a roadshow sponsored by the Philippine Tourism and Travel Association to boost the country's tourism and industry to European countries.

How are jeepneys in the modern era? Today, they are embattled and operators, including manufacturers, are on tenterhooks. Some of them are still on the road and a DOTr report noted that they are responsible for vehicular traffic and contribute 80% of air pollution in Philippines.

We were able to catch Eduardo Sarao, second generation of the famous family for an interview. Prepared to answer a barrage of questions related to the smouldering issue of “Tanggal Bulok, Tanggal Usok” and transitioning to modernize the jeepney, Sarao said his company is ready to follow whatever the government wants to implement. 

In fact, he said, Sarao has already made a prototype of zero-emission jeepney as early as 2014, manufactured an e-jeepney the following year and focusing on a third this year. Asked whether the e-jeepney will take off, Sarao said, “We were still kids when this modernization thing was being talked about. My opinion is that we will still build the traditional jeepneys (‘Dyan tayo nakilala’) but we will be ready for the future and make next generation jeepneys that will be relevant to the changing times.”

Bamboo organ

Tuesday, January 30, 2018, was special because it was the day I experienced the solemn grandeur of Las Pinas’ Bamboo Organ playing for the first time. I regretted having ignored it all these years, thankful now that I joined the DOT media familiarization tour. Had I said “no”, God knows when will I ever set foot on the doorsteps of St. Joseph Parish Church. 

As soon as we arrived, we were ushered upstairs to listen to a medieval song. Right then, I felt an adrenaline rush, and as the organ played, it transported me to the days of Romeo and Juliet. I was as if watching Shakespeare’s play, Act 2, Scene 1 where Romeo was waxing poetic with his cousin Benvolio listening.

Were those pipes really made of bamboos? I moved to the back to play like a sleuth. Oh, yes, indeed. Father Diego Cera de la Virgen del Carmen, a priest from Spain, was the builder of both the church and the famous organ. Records show that he was the parish priest of Las Pinas from 1795 to 1830. Back then, locals portrayed him as a gifted man, natural scientist, chemist, architect, community leader, as well as an organ builder.

Cerra built a number of organs and chose bamboos for most of them, except for the trumpet parts. The choice of bamboo was probably for both practical and aesthetic reasons. He began work on the organ in 1816, while the church was still under construction. The organ took many years to become playable, and that happened only in 1821. It was finally completed in 1824, after he decided to use metal for trumpets because he could not replicate certain musical characteristics using bamboos.

Food tourism

The South is wildly famous for myriad of food havens but few come close to the food wonders that BF Homes offer. So off we went, from Midas Hotel, our Roxas Boulevard meeting place, to Container Turf, where we were supposed to have dinner. 

We passed through the newly constructed Naia super skyway and within an hour, Aguirre Street beckoned, and after a few minutes, we’re inside BF Homes’ favorite chow and fun stop, Container Turf.

From the name itself, the food stalls in this hip food park are located in individual shipping containers. The colors around the three-level food hideaway will definitely brighten your mood. 34 shops, each with its own distinct persona and character will liven up your tastebuds. 

Here’s a rundown of must-try food stalls: Pothead Pig, Swig and Guzzle, El Chapo.s, Eatnam, The Steak Joint, Fromagerie, Red Buffalo, Wok Your Way, Smoke Grill House, Noona’s, Melt, Ayan’s Rumah Makan, Zig-ah-Zig and Dip n’ Dough.

“We have a large community here, in fact, the biggest subdivision in Asia. That explains why we have a wide array of local and international cuisines. In addition, we will have the original “paluto” from the famous “Dampa”, a hawker-style shop of Singapore and more,” Jovic Susim, the tall, dashing and handsome owner of Container Turf, said.

Only 26 years old, Susim and his business partner were dining in a Congressional Avenue food park two years ago when an idea popped up his head. “Why don’t we put up something like this in BF Homes?,” he asked. 

He then went on hunting for a spot. To make the story short, he bagged the contract because his idea was innovative and the design he submitted was category breaking. Today, his pet project has become synonymous to delicious food, great family bonding place, fun hangouts for groupies and concert venues for millennials looking for a feel-good experience.

Life is a feast

Ordinary folks only know about floods in Malabon. But extraordinary people know that the city has one of the oldest churches in the Philippines, well preserved heritage houses in the entire country, plus excellent food treats.

The city folks of Malabon gave us a rousing welcome inside a 404-year old church that looked like the Pantheon of Rome from afar. When we arrived at San Bartolome Church, city tourism officials, all garbed in different shades of pink ushered us inside. DOT Secretary Wanda Teo, together with city mayor Lenlen Oreta were already mingling with foreign tourists who were all amazed at how the church’s Baroque interior has survived since the construction began in 1599.

“The ceiling is amazing, only the paintings of Michaelangelo are missing, otherwise you’d mistake it as the Sistine Chapel,” one tourist was overheard as saying. Outside, three huge 17th century bells lie as mute witnesses to a glorious past. A few steps away, an antique fountain serve as centerpiece of the beautiful adobe-covered courtyard.

Here’s a little bit of history as provided by Malabon City Tourism Office. Malabon came from the words “Maraming Labong” (lots of “labong”, meaning edible bamboo shoots). Originally called Tambobong, Malabon was founded as a “visita” of Tondo by the Augustinian friars on May 21, 1599 and remained under the administrative jurisdiction of the province of Tondo from 1627 to 1688.

The city boasts of a rich economic history by playing an important role in the late 19th century. It was the site of La Princesa Tabacalera in 1851 and the Malabon Sugar Company in 1878. The former was under the corporate umbrella of Compania General de Tabacos de Filipinas, which was owned by the King of Spain, while the latter pioneered the refined sugar industry in the Philippines.

The newspaper La Independencia was first printed in an orphanage in Malabon’s Asilo de HuĂ©rfanos, 
The first Mayor of Malabon was Don Agustin Salamante, a spanish mestizo originally from Cavite.
For 70 years, Malabon was a municipality of Rizal until 1975 when it became part of the National Capital Region.

Tricycle heritage tour

DOT wanted to start the year with big bang and did it with an auspicious, uniquely Malabon start to promote emerging destinations in the Philippines, jewels in their own right, but hardly publicized. 

No less than Secretary Wanda Teo and Asec Ricky Alegre joined the barnstorming as they participated in Malabon’s tricycle tour of the city’s heritage house treasures. Teo gamely hopped inside a quaintly decorated trike, and as she, the mayor and members of media snaked through narrow, busy streets. 

Our first stop was the Syjuco Mansion. Once inside, our world turned back to the days of the Katipuneros. Malabon, being close to Caloocan, the hub of Andres Bonifacio’s campaign against Spain during the 1898 uprising, was also part of that tumultuous chapter in our history.

The mansion is a virtual repository of a storied past. Photos, furniture, curtains, resplendent floors, sturdy balustrades, intricately designed window sills, paintings of Katipunero blood compact, medallions and other mementos of a bygone but not forgotten era abound in this gem of a house.

City Mayor Oreta was very proud to tell us that ever since Malabon’s “Tricycle Tours” were launched, more and more tourists were coming in. “The most notable was a group of students from Harvard University last year. Culture, history, the best food in the Philippines, we all have it here, so help us promote our beloved Malabon,” he said.

Teo, on the other hand, said: “By promoting emerging destinations that are hardly on the consciousness of people, we will also be able to help the local community, notably, tricycle drivers and those working in the tourism industry. We will definitely support and help promote them.”

Want to avail of Malabon’s Tricycle Heritage Tour? Here are some of amazing places you’ll see: San Bartolome Church, the Nepomuceno, Ibaviosa, Rivera and Raymundo Ancestral House,  Syjuco Mansion, and El Casa Katipunero, which also includes a tour of Artes de Paseo Art Gallery owned by Angel Cacnio. They are priced at PHP250 per person, Food Trip Special Tour at PHP750 and combined Food and Heritage tour at PHP900 per person.

The city tourism office then brought us to experience what many people are raving about - the city’s “Lugaw Experience”, a hole-in-the-wall eatery that is always packed with customers. So how was the dish? The “lugaw” was indeed, delectable, you could ask for another serving. 

The place is located just infront of another famous heritage house, the Ibaviosa Mansion, the house that “patis” (fish sauce) built. Oldtimers say, this was the birth of the original “Patis Malabon” that spawned a lot of other brands. 

Next stop, the Angel Cacnio Art Gallery and Residence. I immediately noticed Cacnio’s University of the Philippines’ School of Fine Arts diploma signed by National Artist Guillermo Tolentino in 1954. The artist’s gallery had many paintings depicting Katipuneros at war. 

In one corner hangs several glass-encased modern-day peso bills he designed. Now having a difficulty to speak clearly, Cacnio proudly told us that he never commercialized his paintings and brought them outside of the country. “I painted for the Filipino people and for the Filipinos only,” he said.

Our Malabon tour ended with a grand lunch at the grand Borja-Gonzalez Mansion. The residence, located right beside a heavily populated area, was everything grand - from the grand staircase to the grand piano to the grand art deco mirror, grand ballroom and, of course, grand long table, grand ceilings and turn-of-the-century memorabilia.

As soon as we stepped into the living room, a couple garbed in Filipino-Spanish outfit depicting that era greeted us and danced to the tune of “La Jota Moncadena”. Crispy Pata, Morcon, Pancit Malabon, wide array of “kakanins” were then served. What a feast! 

Promote emerging destinations

“The Philippines has many attractions for the world to discover. Metro Manila alone has hundreds of “emerging” tourist destinations offer not only the usual sun and beach recreation, but widely diverse fun experience and they deserve publicity. We want media to promote them so that foreign as well as local tourists would come in,” Teo told the media members, emphasizing the importance of domestic tourism.

“Thailand has “Tuktuk”, Indonesia has “Bajaj”, and Vietnam has “Cyclo”. Ours is very unique. There’s nothing like it anywhere else in the world. We should make an effort to promote this touch of local color,” said Teo, after she herself took the Malabon Tricycle Tour.

Malabon City Mayor Lenlen Oreta was very thankful to Secretary Teo for visiting Malabon City. The dashing mayor hosted the “Lugaw Xperience” for Teo’s media entourage with the eatery’s specialty, Chicken Arrozcaldo.

Brighter tourism future

Meanwhile, Chinese tourists propelled the Philippines’ tourism industry in 2017, by registering a whopping 43.3 percent (968,447 arrivals) increase. With that figure, the country’s tourist arrivals jumped to 6.62 million, exceeding the 6.5-million target of the Duterte administration under its National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP).

The Philippines sees an even larger increase in Chinese visitors when Philippine Airlines (PAL) brings in tourists from Xiamen to Puerto Princesa starting February 10. More flights are scheduled on February 14, 18 and 22. DOT is also working on developing a Tianjin-Puerto Princesa route in time for the Chinese New Year on February 16. 

Corollary to this, DOT Asec Ricky Alegre said: “We are looking forward to the resulting effects for the country’s tourism industry once all the massive infrastructure projects are completed under the “Build, Build, Build” program of the Duterte administration. To complement this, the DOT is undertaking its “Promote, Promote, Promote” program to entice more foreign tourists to come to the country. It must be three times harder to promote the Philippines now.”

“We have to keep the momentum going now that we are in the implementation phase of the Tourism Development Plan for 2017-2022, which aims to unleash the potentials of our tourism industry and make it more competitive,” Teo said.

Friday, January 19, 2018


By Roger Pe
Business Mirror
January 20, 2018 issue

Print was one of two of the most loved media up to the last days of 2005. Because we handled a telecom account, doing a print ad excited us no end. For one, the waiting time of seeing the fruits of our hardwork was short. It would surely come out on the coming weekend, and whoah, humongous – no less than full page or centerspread.

The cycle went on and on, especially when the battle of telco giants raged like wildfire and reached its peak. Media agencies got rich, while we, creators, happy enough to see our masterpieces come out in its full glory. Along with the fast pace of handling an account that required you to churn out ideas just as fast, we also worked on ad agency initiative ads fit to compete in awards shows. Bread and butter clients. Soul and spirit assignments. You’ve go to be on your toes round-the-clock, even at home. Frenetic? Yes. Exhausting? No. We loved our work.

Naturally, we needed more brains. Instead of hiring from other ad agencies, we thought training people straight out of college would be the best thing to do. And so, one morning of a fine day, I was greeted with the news that a new graduate from Ateneo would drop by the office, and train in my department.
Noah Valdez wanted to be an Art Director. “If that was the case, I will make you think visually rather than draw figures literally,” my advice to him when we first met.

I gave him a deathly 'boring' assignment every single day for one month: Restructure a tagline and allow him to craft his own based on that sentence. That was all he needed to do every morning and come up with the same batch in the afternoon. Sounded crazy but the idea was for him to turn boring moments into day-altering mindful exercises, and allow his mind to wonder. I thought, it was not very often that one gets the chance to sit and relax, and I believed, that when people are given tasks that give them a chance to daydream, they're more likely to be creative.

Noah turned the mundane tasks of many days into magical moments writing copy. He made himself productive. We immersed him into the Bill Bernbach culture and exposed him to bunch of reels from our New York Madison Avenue office. We brought him to pre-production meetings and shoots. Our senior art directors took turns in handling him, working on Apple computer softwares.
We had our weekly “Ads from all over the world” viewing and internal Cannes competitions. Soon, the young man became adept at great layouts, clean, uncluttered, minimalist, ads without copy and headlines – ads I had hoped he would do. He eventually became part of our daily grind.

A few more months, and he was part of my New York Festivals world medal winning ad, “Stamp”, and countless more. As I wrote on my last day in the office before taking on a Malaysia assignment, “he would be one of the great boys of the Philippine ad industry.” True enough, he is on his way.

Noah moved to Bates 141 in 2008, handled by other award-winning creative directors. He returned to Tribal DDB after four years then rejoined Bates CHI and Partners as Creative Director on same year. In 2015, he reached the top and was appointed Executive Creative Director, handling Wyeth, NBA, Pizza Hut, among others.

Noah and his team were responsible for the successes of Wyeth’s growing-up milk brand, Bonakid Pre-School. Musically inclined (it runs in the family), he helped develop a catchy tune that grew into a viral hit. The campaign eventually spawned many dance videos, parodies and spoofed by a well-known local tv show.

Tireless, passionate, eager, and most of all, always strategic, Noah was in the team that won the Pizza Hut business in the Philippines. If you see those all those Pizza Hut commercials on tv, he had a direct hand creating them. He’s gone a long way and attended a number of regional ad conferences and built a career through sheer hardwork.

How is he doing these days? Let’s take a closer look at the millennial hotshot who is rocking his agency and steering it to more successes.

BUSINESS MIRROR: You have been in advertising for quite some time, what made you stick?

NOAH VALDEZ: I’ve always considered myself an Adman by accident and I’ve been very lucky to have great mentors all these years. I guess what really made me stick to Advertising is the opportunity to learn from new people every day. I also love the excitement and rush that you constantly get with the chance to handle different types of brands both local and international.

To be successful in advertising, what do you think people should have and cultivate?

It’s really about patience, persistence, excitement and an undying passion to learn and create. Without these traits, you’ll never make it.

What is creativity to you?

Creativity doesn’t just pop out of nowhere in fact, it takes a lot of work to be Creative. I believe that when it comes to ideas, you can only contribute what you’ve exposed yourself to. So yeah, before you ‘become Creative’, you have to love being inspired first.

What do you look for in a person who wants to work in your department?

I’m always on the lookout for someone who can bring something new to the team. Someone with a different point-of-view, a different background, a different writing or art style - someone I can mentor but someone I can learn from as well. 

People say advertising is not what it used to be, let’s focus on Pitching or acquiring new business. If you agree or disagree, why and why not?

I think it’s more competitive now when it comes to pitches. There are a lot of smaller and younger shops that are definitely capable of nabbing new business wins against more established, multinational agencies.

What is your style of creative management?

I always try to make sure that creativity isn’t forced. True, our daily lives are filled with deadlines but as much as possible, I want my team to always be inspired to create great work. So I constantly share tidbits of amazing work ranging from the best of the industry to the best of what people are doing to change the world. Thank God for Facebook Groups.

How do you begin your day in the office?

I love coming to work before everyone else. The calm and quiet relaxes me and prepares me for the day ahead. I usually start off with a cup of coffee and a light snack, preparing my game plan for the day as I engage in a staring contest with my Calendar.

Describe yourself in a few words:

Alone, at home and at work.

The 5 things you like in advertising?

1. The competitive nature of the industry
2. It’s constantly changing and never boring
3. Working with different types of talented people
4. The opportunity to handle great brands
5. Being exposed to inspiring work from all over the world

The 5 things you hate about it.

Just 2. 1. The late nights (of course) 2. Stress eating

Traditional or Digital? We’ve heard so many discussions about the two, your views?

I’m all for the discipline of Traditional Advertising but I’m absolutely excited about the potential of Digital Advertising.

What medium do you think will give a client much value for his marketing money?

Broadcast TV is still king but it also requires a king-sized budget. I feel that, if done correctly, Social and Digital can give clients so much value for their money because of all the specific parameters you can set.

What’s your favorite medium?

Print! Although it’s a medium that’s slowly dying, I love the challenge of having to figure out how to best capture your target audience with one strong piece of communication without you getting the chance of presenting. It’s all or nothing when it comes to print.

Do you get intimated when faced with big names in the industry, let’s say during a pitch?

I find myself excited with the challenge of going up against people I look up to and respect.

What do you think industry people should do more to keep it more vibrant, relevant and attuned with the times?

I think the industry should continue educating and inspiring the next generation of Admen. A lot of the best in the industry have invested time in teaching in Universities, which is absolutely admirable. These people are keeping our industry relevant. Hats off to them.

How did you start your advertising career?

I started my career not knowing much about Advertising or Art Direction so I’ll always be grateful for than one person who gave me a shot - my first boss. So I basically learned everything on the job; from using Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Freehand back in the day to understanding what it took to win new business and awards. And I’m proud to say that I learned how to source stock photos the hard way by scanning images from Gettyimages Books. Yes. There was no website back in 2003. You young Art Directors are so damn lucky. Cherish it.

Your greatest achievement?

Marrying the one that got away, of course. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017


by Roger Pe
Business Mirror
November 30, 2017 issue

The Ausans of Mindoro moved to Palawan in the early 60s, after the patriarch of the family retired from government service. Paulino Ausan, who had been assigned to the capital to help combat Malaria in the province’s far-flung communities, decided that life would be better for his children to start fresh in ‘the last frontier’.
Afterall, a son had been assigned as head of a forest ranger teamin a mountain protected area. A daughter had a steady job as a medical technologist in the local Department of Health office, and the younger children, instantaneously adapted to their new town.

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

In Mimaropa (acronym for Mindoro, Marindoque, Romblon and Palawan, the five provinces that make up the Southern Luzon Region 1V-B), not only the Ausans had made good by migrating to different islands. 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 hardwork.
A region composed of islands with no land border with another region, Mimaropa, as a whole, encourages people to cross each other’sborders freely. No island seems to be self-contained and self-sufficient. Here, the exchange of goods and commodities flow unceasingly, island to island.

A quick look at the migration phenomena in Mimaropa (from a published research paper by Marietta Alegre of the National Census and Statistics Office): “Migration results from the movement of people to areas where their services are needed or where they believe they can avail better opportunities and resources. 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. We are not an island by itself, we all belong to a bigger piece.”

In essence, that was the gist of Governor Eduardo Firmalo’s speech when he opened the 2017 Mimaropa Festival in Odiongan, Romblon last November 21, 2017 at the town plaza.

What was the vision of thisentire Mimaropathing and what does it hope to achieve throughout its existence?

Firmalo spoke gently from the heart amidst wild cheers. He emphasized the word “encourage” along the way. “We would like to encourage people of Romblon to learn from each other, especially from their neighbors and, hopefully, vice versa. We want to polish ourselves by learning from each other. When we learn from each other, we shine,” he said.

“The transmigration of ideas in the region has actually worked for Mimaropa to its best interest,” amplified Governor Mario Gene Mendiola of Occidental Mindoro. “It is through “Trans-Mimaropa” that we better ourselves,” he said. 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. I hope itwill continue and raise our region to greater heights,” he said.

Rise to prosperity, indeed. Fifty years ago, along with Mindanao, 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 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’seconomic importance on the national scale.

How is the national government helping Mimaropa in terms of infrastructure and tourism upgrade? Odiongan Mayor Trina Firmalo, 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.

In 2007, Mimaropa’s economy started to surge by 9.4%, making it the fastest growing region in the country in that year. The agriculture, forestry, and fishing sector, which contributed 42.1% to the total regional economy, grew by 9.1% from 2006, accelerating from 3.2% the previous year.

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% to the region’s total economy, was the second largest contributor next to agriculture. Mining and quarrying contributed 16.6% to the total regional economy.

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

How did they come up with it? “It was a decision of the RDC (Regional Development Council) where the governors, mayors, and tourism officers of different provinces and cities agreed upon. My job was to see through the bigger picture. We mapped out the competitive landscape and compared it to other region’s vision,” he said.

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 warrior.

He developed many successful tourism products focusing on Sorsogon in Bicolandia. Among his pet projects were the now famous Donsol “Butanding” watching and firefly watching. He updates himself regularly with global trends in tourism, and was one of the first Filipinos to work with WTO (World Tourism Organization) Secretary General Talib Rifai.

How does he develop new tourism products? “We first assess the locale. It is important to prepare the destination to visitors. I talk to LGUs, a critical component of my assessment because their participation and commitment will have an impact on the success of tourism in the area. 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,” Intong stressed.

Intong plans to develop more tourism products for Mimaropa throughout his term. Right now, he is focusing on Romblon because it is an emerging destination and it is easily accessible from Manilaand south Luzon provinces. “Infrastructure projects are beginning to take shape in Romblon, we want more of that to happen,” he said.

He also mentioned that Marindoque could be another Mimaropa gem if it is properly promoted and marketed. “Cruise tourism is perfect for Marindoque and right now, we’re talking to developers,” he said.

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.

He acknowledged the 1M 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 blitzes.

Intong was not reckless in his statements, careful about 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. 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 said.

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. When none of them are present, we are just wasting our time and we will not reap the fruits of our labor,” he said.

5 provinces, 2 cities

Oriental Mindoro is the other half of Mindoro, just a few miles away from Manila. The province is criss-crossed 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 if you take the South Luzon Expressway and Port Batangas in Batangas City. Here, one can find the fourth highest mountain in the Philippines, Mt. Halcon, where you can explore its jungle wilderness;Naujan Lake, the fifth largest in the country (declared as a protected wetland). Around the vicinity are never-before-published 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 “Mangyans”, a major ethnic group with 8 sub-indigenous groups that have retained their pre-Hispanic syllabic script, poetry and myths.

Occidental Mindoro is the other half 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 sandy beaches.

Not to be missed is Mt. Iglit, a declared national park and forest reservation area. Trekkers to this mountain can get a glimpse of the “Tamaraw” which live 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 Mt. Halcon, before being found in 1980.

Marindoque was part of Batangas province when the Spaniards colonized it in 1581. It became part of Mindoro towards 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 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 sandy beaches unknown to many like those in Maniwaya and Tres islands. Dainty handicrafts, delicacies and traditional Filipino hospitality are yours to enjoy when you visit this beautiful island.

Marindoque is also one of the best places to visit if you’re into heritage sites and old churches. The Boac and Santa Cruz cathedrals are fine examples. They served as refuge center 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 onpar with the best in the world. It is also a lucrative export valued by sculptors and builders worldwide.

Romblon is rich in other mineral deposits like gold and copper. Composed of three main islands (Tablas, Romblon and Sibuyan), including a cluster of twenty 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 located in a beautiful bay fortified by a 17th century Spanish garrison. If you are taking a ferry and docking 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, Mt. Guiting-Guitingoffers 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.

Palawan has been chosen by Conde Nast and Travel and Leisure, two of the world’s most respected travel magazines as “World’s Best Island” a number of times. It 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 exhilirating 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 rainforests and hundred caves of Sabang, Tagabinet and Cabayugan, get enthralled by their limestone karst caves and cliffs, go “Butanding” watching in the open sea, bedazzled 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 offCanigaran 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.

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 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 many unspoiled beaches, too, mountain trails, leisure farms and resorts, and hosts a number of rare flora and fauna. Place of interest 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, Baruayan River, amont 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.