Wednesday, September 6, 2017


by Roger Pe
September 17, 2017 issue
Business Mirror

In 2013, Typhoon Yolanda destroyed around 44 million coconut trees throughout the country, putting the livelihoods of more than two million Filipino farmers in jeopardy. The disaster caused the Philippines to skid from number one to number two as the world’s biggest coconut producing country. 

Thank God, most coconut trees in Quezon were spared. Today, the province is poised to reclaim our top global ranking and is bidding to be one of Calabarzon’s most visited places for its natural beauty, historical significance and unique agro-tourism attractions.

I knew of Quezon as an elongated wall on the map at the southeastern border of Luzon facing the Pacific, a province close to Sierra Madre mountain range, always battered by typhoons and seemed so distant. I also knew that it was a land of countless coconut trees and “Lambanog”, the local vodka, came from there. So when an invitation came my way to check it out, I dropped everything and joined the trip. 

From Manila, traversing through SLEX was a fantastic ride. Our highway system in this part of south Manila, indeed, is a proud achievement by the Filipino. I took a 15-minute nap from Southwoods and woke up in Calamba. The next thing I knew, we have reached San Pablo City and nearing Santo Tomas. 

A few minutes more of enjoying the green scenery, Villa Escudero, at the western Batangas border entering Tiaong town, beckoned. That signaled we were in Quezon. 
And then there was Candelaria and Sariaya as we snaked through the province’s Eco-Road. On both sides of the highway, bamboo stalls greeted motorists with their local produce. If Tagaytay has pineapples, jackfruits and other fruits in season, these towns paint the scenery with bright hues of red, orange, and yellows coming from baskets and baskets of luscious “Rambutan” (native Lychees).

Quezon until now is full of coco trees. The breadth and magnitude of its land covered with “the tree of life” beat any coconut-producing province in the entire Philippines. New hybrid trees have replaced aging ones. They are not emaciated looking and tall like in olden times. They are now sturdier, bear more fruits and resistant to pestilence. 

Lucena, capital city

We arrived in the capital city that still has a number of beautifully maintained heritage houses. From the looks of it, Lucena is prosperous, bustling and energetic though the streets are narrow. It even has two malls showing movies simultaneously being shown in Manila. 

Alberto Bay, Jr., Acting Head, Quezon Tourism Office and Raquel Barnett, Senior Tourism Operations Officer, welcomed us to Bulwagang Kalilayan, a restored art deco building that hosts important provincial government meetings. The highlight of the meeting was the province’s traditional offering of hospitality – a “Lambanog” jigger sip for every guest. 

“Would you want pure “Lambanog” or with fruity flavor, take your pick,” Bay asked us as we were partaking our hearty lunch of broiled Tilapia wrapped in Banana leaves. He then explained the tradition of welcoming guests to Quezon. 
“One must participate as a sign of respect,” he opened. For the uninitiated like me, I told myself: “I hope we are not going to get zonked out on midday.” I learned that it was far from anything like what I was thinking. It was supposed to be a gesture of good tidings. 

Even the young or women, participate in the “Lambanog” ritual. “It was always an insult to refuse a drink although one is not obliged to take it,” Bay said. Even before the Spanish came, the act of drinking “Lambanog” was already part of Quezon’s culture. “Quezonians are naturally social and the purpose of drinking is to feel good and enjoy each other’s company, regardless of gender, age or social status,” he said. 

He went on to say that Quezonians do not respect drunkards and despise people who have lost self-control in the act of socializing. “Here, getting drunk is considered boorish and indicative of a flawed character,” he explained. 

Communal customs are adhered to when drinking “Lambanog”. So when the ceremonial “Lambanog” drinking began at the Kalilayan ballroom, the host customarily threw the first shot and drank the next. He then refilled the shot glass for the next drinker. 

Only one glass was used (as customarily done) and each person must utter “Naay Po” (meaning, here’s my drink for everybody to acknowledge one’s “tagay” or turn). Then the “kaumpukan” (circle of friends) answers with “Pakinabangan Po” (don’t get wasted and make use of it). It goes on and on until the bottle of “Lambanog” is emptied. 

Welcome to “Niyogyugan Festival” 
We then made a quick tour of the city, and by nightfall, visited “Niyogyugan Festival’s” piece de resistance, the jawdropping booths of Quezon’s towns. What a sight to behold, they transformed the façade of the provincial capitol into a screen with multicolored lights dancing to the beat of the festival theme song.

The booths were all made from parts of the coconut tree and portrayed the uniqueness of the towns and their people. Polillo showed sea creatures in and out of its colorful booth. Atimonan had a cascading ‘waterfall’ at its booth entrance. Unisan showcased beautiful native handicrafts. General Luna adorned its booth with colorful masks and portrait of the hero it was named after.

Gumaca was one of my favorites for its basket lanterns and ceiling that was fully covered with native fans. Infanta used layered coconut shells to show a day in the life of a coconut farmer. General Nakar had a green roof showing a rainforest and a cave. Lopez town was literally like an open book to show its stature as an education center in Quezon.
The stars of the show were, of course, the local delicacies, “Pancit Habhab”, “Lucban Longganisa”, “Bangus Tinapa” from Lucena City, and “Suman” from Infanta among others. Worth mentioning also is the province’s cuisine that is richly influenced by “Gata” or coconut milk.
The capitol grounds became a veritable "mega-agricultural shopping mall”. Exhibitors reportedly earned over P15 million in profits for products derived from coconut, including virgin coconut oil, lambanog, skimmed milk, buko water drink, coco vinegar, flour, chips, sugar, cheese, yogurt cream, and sauces.

There were coco furniture, handicrafts, house décor, fiber and geonet used in landscaping. The festival’s holiday spirit was spiced up up by day and night musical concerts, a beauty pageant, culminating into cultural parade, street dancing and dance showdown that lasted till sunset.

The month-long celebration was in commemoration of President Manuel L. Quezon’s August 19, 1878 birthday. “We applaud the local government units headed by the office of Governor David ‘Jay-Jay’ Suarez for successfully presenting farm tourism at its best,” said Secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo of the Department of Tourism.

Teo echoed Suarez’s message that “Niyogyugan” is also a fitting tribute to both the coconut and the Filipino farmers not only in Quezon Province, but throughout the country. It is a celebration of life, a kaleidoscope of Filipino cultural diversity, our resiliency and our virtue of hard work,” said Suarez. 

“Thousands of visitors came from all over the world, who got the chance to see Quezon’s world-class destinations like Mt. Banahaw, Cagbalete Island, Villa Escudero, Balesin Island and Putting Buhangin. “A brainchild of Congresswoman Aleta Suarez, is our contribution to our tourism industry and our special way of ushering the Christmas 
,” Bay said.

After five years, the festival has become bigger, more colorful and now has also gained national recognition. “This is all because of the result of the richness of our culture, talent and the potentials of Quezonians to be great,” said Governor David Suarez.

Before midnight of Sunday, the following were declared winners of “Niyogyugan Festival”: 

Overall Champion: Infanta: 1st RunnerUp - Atimonan, 2nd RunnerUp - Real. The Float Competition winners were: 1st Place - Infanta; 2nd Place - Padre Burgos; 3rd Place - Atimonan. 

Best Booth winners Category B) were: 1st Place - Padre Burgos; 2nd Place - Quezon; 3rd Place - Buenavista; 4th Place - Guinyangan; 5th Place - San Narciso; 6th Place- Macalelon.

Best Booth (Category A)1st Place – Infanta; 2nd Place - General Nakar; 3rd Place - Gumaca; 4th Place - Sariaya; 5th Place - Real

Full DOT support

In a one-on-one interview after the festival, Region 1V-A, Calabarzon Regional Director Rebecca Villanueva-Labit gave this writer an interesting insight on where Quezon is now and what plans her management is preparing for the province and the region as well.
What specific program of support are you giving to Quezon?
Labit: In terms of tourism development, we are presently doing the following: 1. Support to POGI-REINA Cluster (Polillo Group of Islands and Real Infant General Nakar) in the tourism master development planning attuned to the 2016-2022 National Tourism Development Program (NTDP). 2. Conduct Various Training Programs on Tourism Awareness for various municipalities, tour guiding, Basic Statistics and Data Gathering and many more.

As the head of tourism for the region, what is your vision for Quezon and for Calabarzon? 

Calabarzon has many things to offer – that’s the reason why our shout out is "ALL YOU WANT IS HERE". We have already generated 26.1 million same day visitors and 4.5 million overnight staying visitors in 2016. 

We are very strong in Farm Tourism, Faith Tourism, Culinary, Eco Tourism, Culture and Arts, History and Heritage. The Region needs to be one in terms of programs as we encourage local government units to provide policies and strong legislation to help support the tourism industry.

What challenges are most daunting in developing Quezon as a destination?
Challenges are numerous. There is a need to organize stakeholders, provide for adequate ordinances on solid waste management, traffic, standard services for tourism establishments, to name a few. The cooperation of the people is important because tourism is the people's business.

What steps are you initiating to manage and tackle them? 

Constant collaboration, meetings and training programs are constantly being done to make people and those in authority to seriously look into the various aspects of tourism, we encourage them to do something and implement what is necessary.

How would you like to see Quezon during your term and in the next 5 years? 
Quezon being the farthest from among the five provinces is a beautiful destination in itself. There is an array of tourism activities that can be developed, available resources, both human capital and raw materials, long coastline adequate for beach tourism.
It has a unique character, as a coconut rich province, and very accessible to almost 5 provinces both by land, sea and air. I see Quezon as leading destination for beach tourism because of its islands and long coastline, rich tradition and culture, beautiful and talented constituents.
However, we cannot do everything for them. LGU's together with the private sector needs to set a common framework to tourism development to generate jobs, sustainable source of income and revenue to the local government.

Do you think the region can compete with the more popular regions in the country? 

Of course.

If you’ll do it your way, what are the three most important things you would do to make Quezon enjoy an unprecedented increase in tourist arrivals?
Faith Tourism - We have “Kamay ni Jesus” that generates tourist arrivals
Festivals - The Pahiya, Arana't Baluarte and Agawan happening in May 15 are significant events that can be honed to gain more tourist arrivals.
Niyogyugan in the last 3 years has improved a lot not only, in terms of participation by the entire province, but the movement of people from one place to the other, coupled by numerous products it can boast to support tourism. It has all the ingredients to become another major festival. Careful planning, collaboration, proper promotions and marketing need to be done to make it mainstream.

What do you think are Quezon’s most unique attractions that other regions don’t have?

People. People will always make the difference, If we have peace loving, god-fearing environmentally aware people, that will be an outstanding characteristic to make it as a destination apart from the rest.

What kind of infrastructure projects Quezon needs right now? 

More roads so more tourists can go to more destinations as well as more state of the art hotels and facilities.

In one word describe Quezon? 


Onward Farm tourism
At the Madrid Fusión Manila early this year, DOT
underscored the importance of agriculture and farm tourism in the Philippines in relation to making world-class dishes.

Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo said: “The Philippines is blessed with abundant agriculture, as well as vast greenery and pristine scenery, a perfect combination for gourmet, health relaxation and leisure activities. This has given rise to agriculture or farm tourism, another profitable endeavor for tour operators and farmers,” she said during the launch of the Calabarzon Farm Tourism Travel Guide at the SMX Convention Center.

Teo said that DOT has long recognized the value-added potential of farm and traditional agricultural sites as income-generating tourist destinations. “The idea of farms as tourist spots is not new. Imagine harvesting fresh farm produce for lunch, while your young ones wet their feet in a watering hole nearby,” she said.

Last year, DOT accredited 14 more agri-tourism farms across the country, many of which are in the Calabarzon region. Among them were Costales Nature Farms, Cathy Turvill of Amadeo Nurture Farmacy, MoCa Family Farm, Terra Verde Ecofarm, Gourmet Farms, Ato Belen’s Farm, Forest Wood Garden, Flor’s Farm and Garden, Kahariam Farms, and Teofely Nature Farms, Nurture Farms, Domingo Permafarms and Chad’s Nature Farm.

Previously, Lucban, Quezon hosted the 3rd Farm Tourism Conference with the theme “Healthy Soils for a Healthy Life” in support of the United Nations (UN) declaration of 2015 as the International Year of Soils, in cooperation with the Province of Quezon, Department of Tourism (DOT), International School of Sustainable Tourism (ISST), and the DILG. 

Tree of Life

Based on latest statistics, Quezon Province rivals three Davao provinces as the country’s top coconut producer. It has a total coconut plantation of 391,196 hectares, representing 78 percent of its agricultural land, with 78 million coconut trees. 
As the world's second biggest producer of coconut, the Philippines is a major source of coco products consumed around the world. 

The country’s coconut industry provides a livelihood for one-third of the country's population. Our country's 338 million coconut-bearing trees produce on average 15.344 billion nuts a year, with coconut product exports, usually going to U.S., Japan, Germany, and China.

Despite the incredible growth and massive global interest worldwide, 60% of Filipino coconut farmers live below the poverty line. According to researches made by the Philippine Coconut Authority, many layers of middlemen with organized cartel system, control pricing and expensive transport and handling costs add woes to coconut farmers.

Based on current Philippine Coconut Authority’s statistics, the Philippines has
  • 3.517 million hectares planted to coconut trees
  • 26% of total agricultural land
  • 68 out of 81 provinces are coconut areas
  • 329.9 million are fruit bearing trees
  • Southern Leyte in the Eastern Visayas is the Philippines’ second largest coconut producing region behind Mindanao where 56 per cent of total production comes from, namely from the Davao region.
The Top 10 Coconut-Producing Provinces: 
1. Quezon – 1,114,760.53 metric tons
2. Davao Oriental – 1,046,223.72 metric tons
3. Davao del Sur – 837,687.04 metric tons
4. Leyte – 680,139.83 metric tons
5. Zamboanga del Norte – 599,248.82 metric tons
6. Lanao del Norte – 566,848.00 metric tons
7. Zamboanga del Sur – 554,971.66 metric tons
8. Misamis Occidental – 546,441.00 metric tons
9. Maguindanao – 541,040.90 metric tons
10. Misamis Oriental – 484,950.00 metric tons 
Source: Bureau of Agricultural Statistics 

Davao is the top coconut-producing region in the country with 11 of the 13 preferred coconut varieties present, said a Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) Board Member. Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that in 2015, Davao Region produced a total of 2,246,187.53 metric tons, the highest in the country. 
The rest of the coconut producing regions in the Philippines are Northern Mindanao (1.85 million metric tons), Zamboanga Peninsula (1.68 million metric tons), Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) (1.39 million metric tons), and Calabarzon (1.38 million).

Province of Quezon

Quezon has 39 towns and two cities, Tayabas and Lucena, the most progressive and seat of provincial government. The latter is also independent from the administrative and fiscal supervision of the province, but is eligible to vote for provincial officials. Metro Lucena has an estimated population of 700,000, which is mostly concentrated in south-central portion of the province. 

The province is the food basket of Calabarzon, producing 200,000 metric tons of rice and corn annually, or around 42% of the total rice and corn requirement of the region.

The two most famous festivals of Quezon are the “Pahiyas” and “Niyugyugan” celebrations. “Pahiyas”, the oldest of them, has become a brand of Lucban town. It honors San Isidro, patron saint of farmers and it is held every May 15 of each year. People in the town compete against each other in decorating their houses. The most creative (using varied farm produce, as well as the trademark “Kiping” (colorful thin sheets of glutinous rice shaped into big leaves) are adjudged the winners.

Spectacular beaches and springs abound in the northern part of Quezon facing the Pacific Ocean. The island of Balesin, for example, has become the playground of the rich and famous. The exclusive island resort features seven uniquely themed resorts and villas.

Jomalig has the famous Salibungot Beach. Real is becoming famous for surfing, rivaling Siargao. Cagbalete Island in Mauban boasts of white beach and a beautiful sand bar. Mainit Hot Springs in Tayabas will invigorate those who want to take a dip into its refreshing waters.  

Heritage houses? Quezon is plenty of them. The province is home to a number of old Spanish houses from 17th to early 20th century up to the time when the Americans came. Among the most popular are the Enriquez-Gala Mansion, Gala-Rodriguez house, Villa Sariaya and Villa Escudero, each with its own story to tell about the opulence of coconut landlords.

Other Spanish-era structures also exist outside Sariaya like the the Casa de Comunidad de Tayabas, Malagonlong Bridge and the churches of Lucban and Tayabas.
Mystic Mount Banahaw covers a big part of the province. Considered an active volcano it is very popular among religious pilgrims and hikers. Just the sight of the majestic mountain makes one refreshed. 

Monday, August 28, 2017


by Roger Pe
Business Mirror
August 27, 2017 issue

 The world must know about Alfred Soriano-Micheau’s story. His is an ingredient for a great book, an inspiring movie to watch, and his creations, so delectable you could hear sweet magical music.

Born and raised in Manila, Alfred was given away when he was a couple of months old because his mom was detained in Philippine Women’s Correctional Institute.

“I graduated with flying colors from Pelaez Elementary School, a public grade school,“ he begins telling his humble beginnings. As a salutatorian, he earned a number of leadership and academic awards from Maceda Integrated School, afterwhich, given a full scholarship to study in De La Salle College of Saint Benilde. He took up Hotel, Restaurant and Institution Management and that led him to a bright path.

When he was seven years old, Alfred repacked and sold marshmallows, candies, chocolates and chips. “Growing up from a family with meager income, I knew that I have to help and work to survive while trying to finish my studies,” he relates.

He tutored and helped his classmates with their assignments in return for some money and food. When he was old enough to apply for a professional job, he worked as a call center inbound sales representative for Sprint and Verizon while also finishing his degree in college.

After college, he was given an opportunity to apply for an international internship. “That was a turning point in my life. I flew to the U.S. with a few dollars and loose change given by my family and friends. With full determination to prove my worth and start a better life, I worked at the Grand Hotel, a 5-diamond luxury resort in Mackinac Island, as a front desk agent. I transferred to Ocean Reef Club, a private, luxury and members-only club in Key Largo, Florida after 6 months and got promoted as front desk supervisor and manager on duty. As part of my internship, I transferred to Park Hyatt in Washington, D.C. and worked as a server in Blue Duck Tavern, a Michelin-star casual fine dining restaurant in the nation’s capital.”

On September 2013, Alfred would meet the love of his life and get married. He then decided to move to Charlevoix, Michigan to live with his spouse. A couple of months after, they decided to open a home-based bakery and named it “Cre8tive Cupcake”.

“We initially did small orders from locals and business owners while sponsoring numerous non-profit organizations, clubs and being active in the community.

Alfred and his spouse opened their storefront on April 2017. “I started as a baker and owner. Here, I created a great team to serve locals and thousands of tourists that visit Charlevoix every summer. We then realized the big potential of our business in the wedding industry and started to penetrate the market. After a year and a half, and with over 200 weddings, satisfied couples, clients, customers and blessing from other business owners, chefs, mavericks of the food industry, we decided to take the responsibility and named myself as Executive Pastry Chef.”

Alfred patiently waited because he knew the responsibility that came with it, and the hard work that he had to go through to take the position.

What made him decide to go into cupcake business?Here is a personal interview on how his entrepreneurial streak has given him much excitement and life-changing opportunities.

ASM: “Even when I was young, I always have that love and passion for cakes and desserts. However, I know that I cannot afford to study culinary arts even with my full scholarship because of the trips, projects and exposures that they do. I remember peeping and watching culinary arts students during their “BAKIPA2” classes while making cakes and pastries. I also watched them a couple of times practicing for competitions. I was so amazed by their talents and eye for details.

Growing up, I didn’t experience getting big cakes or even a cupcake on most of my birthdays. It wasn’t a big deal at all. I always look back on those days that I wished I had a chance to blow a candle on top of a cake for my birthday. I believe a cupcake is more affordable than a big cake. Most people can buy it. Stick a candle on top of it and make a celebration extra special.”

“Cupcakes are handy, a finger food that there is no certain rule on how to eat it. With this generation, everyone has his own food preference. Some people like Vanilla, Chocolate, Red Velvet, Carrot, Peanut Butter, some wants it gluten free, nut free, vegan and organic,” he says.

Cupcakes are also personal. Every single cupcake that I make is made with love, hand-piped to perfection and well presented. It is something that one can personally devour or be shared to the ones they love.”

Did you make a market study before you went into this business?

“I learned in college the importance of market study and its positive effect to any business. We absolutely did it before we decided to open the storefront with a little twist.

Instead of doing a traditional market research, we did it by sponsoring events, organizations, non-profit clubs and donating to the community. We also did some random door-to-door and delivered for the community for their feedbacks. Before we know it, people were ordering every week, asking us to consider opening a storefront and providing us with help and tons of positive comments.

Today, “Cre8tive Cupcake” is a well-known brand in Northern Michigan. Not only serving locals but also hundreds of thousands tourists that visit our amazing town. I believe that it is a successful brand, a great product, amazing business model, and a big part of the wedding industry in this part of the world.

We were featured in numerous locals and US based magazines and newspapers for our products and business. We served over 400 brides to date and extremely thankful for the success and opportunity to have such an amazing support and love from our locals and tourists.”

What kind of cupcakes do you make? What’s so special about them?

“We proudly serve baked-fresh cupcakes everyday. We usually come to the bakeshop at 5am to bake our cupcakes that are made from scratch using the finest quality ingredients.

We use Madagascar Vanilla Bean, fresh and organic eggs, 100% Butter, we do not use shortening on any of our creams, we also use 100% Dark Chocolate from Belgium, our jams and fillings are all made from scratch on our kitchen. We also do not serve frozen cupcakes and cakes. We know how important for our clients to taste nothing but the best on the cupcake that they are eating. In our bakeshop, we all believe that we are only as good as our last performance so we have to give our best on every product that we make.

We have two Signature cupcakes, Death by Chocolate, which is a decadent dark chocolate cupcake with Fluffy Chocolate Buttercream Frosting, Semi Sweet and Sweet Chocolate Chips, Chocolate Sprinkles, Chocolate Malt Ball and Chocolate Ganache (seven different brands and flavors of chocolate).

My personal favorite and one of our best sellers is our Strawberry Shortcake. It is a Madagascar Vanilla Bean Cupcake filled with Home Made Strawberry jam and topped with Light Strawberry Infused Home Made Whipped Cream.

The other special and really a big hit for the kids is our build your own cupcake, wherein we let kids and kids at heart to frost and decorate their cupcakes.

What market segment buys your product?

I would say majority of our clients are women, families with kids and the youth. I honestly think that cupcakes target every one. No matter what your race, gender, age or income. It is for everyone. For someone who is celebrating a birthday, to a person who wants to surprise a loved one, to family who want to treat the kids something sweet and to men who wanted a quick sweet fix.

I have found that our storefront attracts the market and the people we want to come in. When we had a crazier, feminine and bright colored paints, a lot of kids came in as they like the ambience. When we toned it down and added some rustic touch, more cozy and relaxing atmosphere, we attracted even the male clients.

How do you market them and create awareness?

I believe that we have a very unique and creative way of marketing our products. One of which is sponsoring and donating to events, joining non-profit organizations, and providing complimentary cupcakes during special local open houses. On top of which, we are very active with our social media. We have a great and informative website ( On top of that we also have a really interactive facebook and Instagram where we post our latest creations and update about the business and our community.

Our clients also find us from different venues as a preferred service provider and also being promoted by different restaurant and businesses.

And most importantly we have a really good reputation so the most powerful marketing tool for us is the word of mouth and recommendations from our previous and current clients. We pride ourselves on not only providing great tasting and aesthetically looking products but also exceeding our guest’s expectations with out service and promptness.

What’s your marketing style?

We are very flexible with our style. Varying from loud, colorful and cheery to attract the youth. I even once wore a pink tuxedo and pink top hat to promote our business and once wore a prince suit to an event. We also have a subtle, relax and soft approach to attract men.

And for our brides, we have several sophisticated ways of promoting and advertising to them. With cupcakes and cakes that we serve, we can be quirky, crazy, fun, elegant, classy, refine, high end and extravagant. But what we are always proud about is our sincere service in creating delectable products.

How do you keep up with the best in your own product category?

I practice every day. After decorating cupcakes in the morning, emailing our brides and following up with orders, I always make a time to watch youtube videos. Search the newest trend in cupcakes, cakes and wedding designs and flavors and not settle for less.

Do you follow trends or you make your own product?

I get inspiration for some of the newest trends and use it to better our existing products. Sometimes a lot of change can hurt the business especially with food. I always keep everything simple and at the same time add couple of flavors here and there so our tourists and locals can try them. 
 We have 15-20 flavors that are signature and what we serve daily and we have specials to give a little twist to our foodies and food adventure seekers.

If you are going to advertise your product what would your unique selling proposition be and why do you think your target market should buy them?

The strongest selling point of our products: They are baked fresh on the day of the pick up. No matter how early or late the pick up will be, we guarantee that it is fresh and we only use the freshest and best ingredients available. We do not cut down on our ingredients even if the prices go up and down. We use the same and do not settle for less. Every bite you will feel and taste the difference and the love that we put on our cupcakes. It is absolutely worth every penny.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


by Roger Pe
Business Mirror
August 17, 2017 issue

Enhancements that beautify walls and lobbies of elegantly designed skyscrapers. Hotels, offices and houses that have character because of the kind of stone the interior designers used. Bathrooms that look so clean you want to sleep on them. Balustrades, stairs, monuments, hallways, grave markers, and, tiles that, literally, floor you, what else can you not make beautiful with marble?

Undisputed as marble capital of the Philippines, Romblon has carved a proud name for itself and it is easy to believe. A quick visit to the outskirts of the town reveals mountains sitting on a bed of marble lodes, running through its entire geographical vein.

And it is not just ordinary marble. High-grade Italian quality, a fact that even Michaelangelo, had he found out about it, could have sailed to our shores and built an atelier in the town. Perhaps, he could have also sculpted “Pieta” right here, or maybe, imported tons of boulders from the Philippines to Italy, con amore.

The whole island of Romblon is one giant rock, blessed by nature with infinite supply of marble that comes in shades of white, green, pink, red and black. The Mines and Geosciences office estimates that the province has about 150 million metric tons of marble. “At current rates of extraction, the supply may last for three more centuries,” according to the bureau.

Though the province is comprised of two other bigger islands, Tablas and Sibuyan, which are equally rich in gold and nickel, it is marble that has made it famous and gave its people livelihood for more than half a century.

But there’s more to Romblon than just marble. It is an emerging tourist destination about to debut on world stage. Her beauty is slowly unraveling, its charm, history and attractions are hot on people’s bucket list. We are pretty sure that after reading this, it will also be on your top picks and you’ll be heading to your nearest travel booking agent.

Day 1

Our trip to Romblon was made possible by the Philippines Department of Tourism to promote unchartered places in the country, beautiful and stunning, different yet inviting. Undiscovered yet comparable to the best in the world, destinations unique in their own persona. 

Regional focus on Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marindoque, Romblon and Palawan) was scheduled for August, spotlighting on Romblon this time. Cecille Aranton, DOT head for Mimaropa market and product development, laid the groundwork and made sure travel itinerary for invited media guests ran on clockwork precision.

Typhoon Gorio delayed our flight for a week but on our next Monday flight, the sun shone brightly - perfect, just as we wanted. 

I arrived at the domestic airport way ahead of the group, to avoid long queues and possible bedlam. To begin with, the mood at the terminal was festive (as if nothing was happening in the south). Seats were full and reeking with foreign and local tourists. By a little past noon, our airplane jetted off quietly. The 76-seater Cebu-Pacific ATR plane then glided over 18,000 feet, moved gently with the clouds and temptingly showed Manila’s beautiful skyline.

In a little over 20 minutes, we were cruising above Batangas, and a few minutes later, a big island with a large inland body of water beckoned. I whispered to myself: “That’s Mindoro and that’s Naujan Lake.” As I checked my map, gee, I was right. 

The aircraft then veered towards southeast, signalling that we were approaching Tablas, Romblon’s biggest island and where the province’s commercial airport is located. We arrived exactly after one hour, rated pleasant and comfortable. No air pockets, no bumps and smooth all the way.

After disembarking, we traversed an almost 20-kilometer well-paved road at the foot of Tablas’ mountain ridges. We snaked through a highway astride a quiet sea that rumbled Romblon the week prior. Halfway through, just as I was about to be lulled to sleep by the long van ride, I saw a sign on the road: “Mag-ingat sa mga nahuhulog na bato” (watch out for falling rocks). It made me lose my desire to take a nap.

As we were getting closer to San Agustin town, our jump off point to the capital, it dawned on me that most of Romblon’s towns, if not all, belonged to a category of places that has remained quaint, undisturbed and unbelievably quiet to the point of being bucolic.

One might call it too ‘provincial’, but, hey, here lies Romblon’s beautiful charm. Far from the maddening, rambunctious city crowd, an experience that money can’t readily buy. Serenity pervades all over.

After about 45 minutes, the very welcoming town hall people served us a hearty lunch of “Inihaw na Bangus”, “Adobo”, “Tinolang Manok” and Romblon’s pride, “Sarsa”, a local dish that is made of small shrimps caught in river streams, mixed with young coconut and chili. It is then wrapped in coconut leaves and steamed to delectable goodness.

And then we were finally off to the capital town. Romblon is a place I’ve known only in textbooks and newspapers. It lies at the foot of a lush mountain range that is so green you readily get refreshed. The immediate feeling that you get is “the people have been waiting for you”. I felt so much at home.

After a lightning visit to the town plaza, we made a courtesy call to a soft-spoken Governor, Eduardo Firmalo at the provincial capitol. The short visit became a long interview.

A doctor by profession, Firmalo’s paternal uncle was also Romblon’s provincial governor before and during the war (1938-1941). He is on the honor list of the Duterte government for his anti-drug and no-mining policies.
In 2011, Governor Firmalo signed a moratorium on metallic mining in the province and mobilized people to oppose large scale mining activities in the area.
“It is tourism that can help spur growth in Romblon, not destructive mining,” Firmalo says. 

The governor is focusing on building more infrastructure projects to improve accessibility and make commuting between the islands a pleasant experience for all.

Only Cebu-Pacific flies to Romblon (three times a week). Firmalo is hoping that the airline will increase it to four. He is also working to attract excess tourists from Boracay to visit the province for a change of atmosphere. 
About one million tourists visit Boracay a year. Firmalo hopes tourism real estate investors would turn their eyes on Romblon (just 30 minutes by boat ride) so tourists can escape the ‘party’ scene of Boracay and enjoy Romblon’s tranquility.

More than ever, the governor wants to improve health conditions of his fellow Romblomanons. As a doctor, he believes that a healthy and strong populace can build a better Romblon. In recent years, his team has initiated countless fitness programs for the youth aside from continuing its feeding programs and watching over the province’s senior citizen populace. 

What’s on the pipeline? Firmalo hopes that a modern hospital would soon rise on his native turf, plus construction of more boat terminals to ease congestion at the main dock, improvement of ferryboat service between Romblon and its neighboring islands to boost commerce and tourism.

Day 2

Ah, the simplicity of life in Romblon, the picturesque landscape at the bay. Viewed from a distance, the town looks like a Portuguese village, creating a Mondrian art feel. 

Oh, you may call it serendipity. Francisco “Paco” Sanz, the province’s first appointed governor after a long list of Spanish Governors, was born in Portugal, and speaking of things European, a stroll away from the dock is a line of small tratorrias and pizzerias. One can also enjoy German, Italian and Dutch lager here.

Inter-island boats of all sizes dock on the port round-the-clock. The structures in the town flaunt the colors of the rainbow. By sunset, the kaleidoscope adds a palette of drama to the panorama. Nature’s art direction by now becomes jawdropping. Get ready to be mesmerized.

Further up, a belfry and a cathedral (St. Joseph) still stand mighty proud near the town plaza. They’re one of about seven original structures of old Romblon still existing. Erected by the Spanish Recollects in 1726, they have survived Moro pirate raids, countless typhoons and World War II. 

The municipal town hall still carries its old architecture. A ‘cuartel’ (jail) underneath the building is a must-see. Infront of the edifice is a century-old Narra tree - so massive you can tell that it is a mute witness to the town’s colorful past. If only it could talk.

On top of a hill, fronting the bay is Romblon’s Fuerza San Andres, a fort built by early Spanish conquistadors in 1644 to warn townsfolks of an impending raid. During this period, bloody skirmishes between Filipino-reinforced Spanish army and marauders oftenly occurred.

Romblon chronicles indicate a Dutch invasion in the 1700s, and Moro raids were aplenty after the Spanish came. Living testaments to these fierce battles are old canons displayed in the renovated landmark. They now serve as relics of a bygone era. 

Today, the governments of Australia and other European countries, in cooperation with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and National Museum, continue to contribute efforts to restore the historic place.

As we moved into the town’s innermost sanctum, more century-old houses greeted us. There was the former Governor’s residence, the old elementary school and a number of antique structures that had changed ownership through the years.

We then explored a marble quarrying concession and saw men unloading raw marble boulders straight from the mountain source. Adjacent to the site was a heavy equipment warehouse where giant slabs of marble stones are cut, further shaped and cleaned for export.

A Roro boat then took us to Sibuyan, one of Romblon’s three major islands. We landed in invigorating Magdiwang, a flourishing town, all green and refreshing to the senses. We enjoyed a bit of paradise in Sanctuary Garden Resort, Barangay Tampayan. 

Here, you can see myriad of birds chirping and delighting you as they perched on flower gardens and trees around its wooded villas. I actually saw Hummingbirds and yellow Oreole, and whispered, “Wow!” 

The resort, indeed, is a refuge. A river, a few steps away, runs through it so you can enjoy kayaking. The amenities are traveler-friendly and comfortable, the bathroom floors are, of course, made of what else? Marble.

Also in Magdiwang is Mt. Guiting-Guiting whom the folks describe as a “mystic” mountain because of its jagged rooftop. “It is our adventure bestseller, one of the more popular Philippine mountains and, obviously, favorite of mountaineers because of the degree of difficulty one has to encounter before he can reach the summit,” Magdiwang, municipal tourism officer Rommel Radan told us as he hosted our dinner during our first night at the Sanctuary Garden Resort. 

Known also as the crown jewel of Romblon, Mt. Guiting-Guiting has been declared a protected Natural Park by the government because of its diverse wildlife species.

Day 3

We woke up early in the morning and hailed a jeepney to take us to Romblon’s fabled Cresta Del Gallo. We passed through Marigondon, Taguilos, Cajidiocan, Alibagon, Azagra and Campalingo under the scorching hot sun. Well-paved roads greeted us but they would be intermittently cut short by ongoing construction in-between. 

As we plodded along the way, more road-widening work loomed in the horizon causing our vehicle to slow down. And when it did, dust would furiously swirl around it. We must have inhaled tons of them.

“Are we there yet?” I heard someone asked just as I about to ask, “how many more minutes?” We finally reached San Fernando town after four hours. Vice mayor and municipal tourism officer Arben Rosas met us at the pier. From here, we will take another one-hour boat ride to Cresta de Gallo. 

Meanwhile, the sun was getting hotter and hotter, and I murmured: “I hope this is worth the long trip.” Midway, I saw a school of flying fish and farther, a big splash spurted out of the sparkling turquoise blue waters. “What could it be?” I asked while removing my sunglasses to get a better view. 

Then I heard everyone scream: “Dolphins!” Yes, those dolphins escorted us until we reached Cresta del Gallo’s spectacular white sandbar. It certainly worth the trip and I didn’t mind getting my skin burned.

Cresta de Gallo is a five-hectare kidney-shaped islet with a stretch of white sand beach. By low tide, the beautiful sandbar is a stunning sight, and some say, much better than those in Kalanggaman and Camiguin. Only one person lives here, the caretaker and his dogs.

On a 20-meter radius, the whole island is surrounded by the clearest body of water, teeming with wide variety of marine life. I was told that you camp for the night and sail back to Sibuyan the morning after.

Sibuyan is also full of underrated sites with rivers and a number of waterfalls that bring forth the clearest of water. I, for one, wouldn’t jump for a swim had Cantingas River was not so inviting and crystal-clear.

We went back to Romblon town tired but still managed to squeeze in some time to see the beauty of Bonbon and Nonok, two beautiful resorts with white sand beaches. If long trips bore you, these two can readily satisfy your craving for sun, sea and surf, and they are right within the town vicinity, a few steps away from the dock.

Day 4

On our last day, we headed back to Tablas for our flight back home. We needed to spend the night in the town for our noon flight the next day. Aglicay Resort prepared us a feast of the freshest, yummiest seafood welcome dinner. 

The place is a perfect hideaway for the sport-minded. It has tennis, two beach volleyball courts and a long stretch of white sand beach fronting the dining area. Though hay fever and sinus problems bothered me a lot, I was still able to enjoy its very idyllic setting.

Forward Mimaropa Region

Here’s an interview with DOT’s Aranton on their blueprint for Mimaropa in the next few years:

As head of market and product development of DOT Mimaropa region, what would you like to achieve over a short and long term period?

Aranton: The Mimaropa Region is composed of five island provinces of Southern Tagalog Region namely Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan.  It is located at the heart of the archipelago and home of numerous marine sanctuaries, unspoiled white sand beaches, rich flora and fauna with unique products and lovely people making it as the Treasure Throve of the South. 

It is also home to several National Parks, World Heritage Sites, protected aqua marine areas, even wild safari parks that makes it unique and special compared to other regions in the country. With traffic-jam free, non-congested cities and bustling highways, one will only experience and find rugged roads, palm-fringed secluded white beaches, peace and serenity.

For a short-term period, DOT wishes to make all the provinces that comprise Mimaropa, “A Must See”, “Must Experience” and “Naturally, A Destination of Choice in the Country.”

Long term, we want to adopt the Tourism Vision: “To develop a highly competitive, environmentally sustainable and socially responsible tourism industry that promotes inclusive growth through employment generation and equitable distribution of income.“

What’s your priority in doing the tasks given to you?

We want to develop and market competitive tourist destinations and products. Continue to participate in sales missions, tourism fairs and road shows abroad and around the country where there is connectivity to the region such as the cities of Manila, Cebu and Iloilo.

Support and attend cruise conventions in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Korea and China to increase cruise calls in the city of Puerto Princesa, Coron and El Nido, Palawan and Romblon and Sibuyan Islands, Romblon.

We would like to organize domestic media and travel trade familiarization trips specifically in emerging destinations and support the conduct of Foreign Travel Trade and Media Invitational Programs of Tourism Promotions Board (TPB).

We would like to make strong representations 
with government line agencies to improve market 
access and connectivity. Strengthen the Convergence
Programs with Infrastructure Agencies for 
the development and upgrading of roads leading 
to tourist destinations, airports and seaports.

Call on domestic airline services to possibly look into the possibility of opening air routes to emerging destinations.
Improve tourism institutional governance and human resource capacities.

Continue to conduct training programs for the tourism industry workers to enhance skills and competencies.
Increase the number of DOT-accredited tourism establishments in the region.

Challenges you are facing and wish you have the support?

Sustain the accolade given to the Province of Palawan as World’s Best Island for several years now. We have to make the province consistently competitive with other destinations not only in the country but worldwide.

“When tourism progress, poverty retreats”, we are inspired more than challenged by this thought to develop and promote an environmentally and socially responsible tourism that delivers more widely distributed income and employment opportunities.

We are lucky to be in a Region where there is solidarity among the local chief executives to push Mimaropa as the “Next Big Thing in the Philippines.” The biggest challenge is a call for a collaboration of efforts, continued support and partnership with the government line agencies, local government units and the private sector (our tourism industry partners) for us to be able to achieve our Tourism Programs.”

Saving the best for last, we would like to thank the Governor Eduardo Firmalo, all the hospitable people of Romblon and the untiring Myrna Silverio, executive assistant from the office of the governor for making us all well-taken cared of throughout the trip. Till we meet again.

The third Mimaropa Festival will be held in Odiongan, Romblon on November 20 to 25, 2017 and will be hosted by the province of Romblon.