Wednesday, November 2, 2016


by Roger Pe
November 3, 2016
Business Mirror

Ozamiz was one of the original four Mindanao cities, along with Davao, Zamboanga and Cotabato, when development of the country’s second biggest island was just starting to be felt. 
It was formerly a Spanish town called Misamis, a name people say came from the Subanon word "Kuyamis”, a coconut variety. It grew because of the presence of a Spanish garrison called Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion del Triunfo, constructed in the 17th century to control pirates from nearby Lanao province. 

It became a chartered city in 1948 and was subsequently renamed Ozamiz after its former governor, congressman and delegate to the 1935 Constitutional Convention, Jose Ozamiz, who was also a former Philippine Senator.

The tranquil city sits in the middle of Panquil Bay, an inlet body of water that seems to pierce through Zamboanga peninsula and part of Lanao del Norte. Its Cotta Fort, interestingly, a small version of Intramuros and as old as Zamboanga City’s Fort Del Pilar, testifies the major importance of the area in northern Mindanao. Historians say, the fort already existed long before the Spaniards came and was only finished with the combined effort of peace-loving Subanons and Spanish conquistadores.

Three centuries later today, Ozamiz bids for its place in the sun, serious about building its great tourism potential and to add luster to its “Gem of Panquil Bay” title. It is out to correct the wrong impression unfairly given to a city that has been selflessly delivering services and uplifting the livelihood of its people. It wants to promote the real truth of its governance.

Some people may have heard about the city only recently from a media coverage gone mad, profuse with misinformation. It’s time to shake them off your mind. Unbeknownst to many, Ozamiz is also the cultural, historical, and educational capital of northern Mindanao. A number of institutions of higher learning, notably the prestigious De La Salle University Ozamiz, Misamis University, Misamis Institute of Technology among others, have been there for decades.

Refreshing news

Ozamiz is bound to be the Dragon Fruit basket of the Philippines and its delectable Dragon Fruit Ice Cream, a creamy delight created by local master chef and restaurateur Johann Dagandara, is destined to be a world sensation. The ingredients are fresh, the fruits homegrown in a plantation rich in volcanic soil. The fleshy pulp is pleasantly milky, not of the usual sour variety. The heavenly concoction seems to be the best thing that ever happened to the city. Have a cup and scoop for more.

Mindanao’s longest and largest bridge project will soon be a reality, spanning across the picturesque Panquil Bay. Construction begins on the third quarter of 2017 and it will connect Lanao del Norte and Misamis Occidental by 2020, also further connecting the emerging cities of Tangub and Tubod. Significantly, it will reduce travel time between the city to Oroquieta, Dipolog and Dapitan.

Ozamiz’ Panquil Bay is also home to a rare species of fish that thrives only in that part of the country. Called “Laya”, a snapper-looking grouper, it is one of its cuisine delights, perfectly sumptuous as “Kinilaw”. Downtown, the city has retained its old-world, undisturbed charm. The streets still resemble those in rustic towns, quaint and narrow, yet ocassionally, would surprise you with a colorful riot of colors from “Bandera Espanolas”, “Bougainvillas” and other multi-colored flowering plants as you move along. 

A few heritage houses are sprinkled around the city, withstanding the ravages of time and attracting culturally conscious visitors. Visit the ancestral mansion on Valconcha corner Ledesma streets. Though a paint store has ruined its fa├žade, its soul remains intact. Once owned by a government official with an illustrious name, it transports you back to another era. From the stairways to the living room and bedroom interiors, you will see a microcosm of a culturally rich city and the illustrado realm of some of its genteel citizens.

While progress has enveloped the city, people still take time to look at you in the eye and smile at you. The symphony of “Habal-Habal” (tricycles) wakes you up as early as five o’clock in the morning, a sound that accelerates to higher crescendo once you step out of your hotel and start exploring the city.

You can get by with 100 pesos a day in Ozamiz, and with 5 pesos, you can see the city in its raw, unpretentious beauty. At the city hall, stands a statue of Jose Rizal, one of few anatomically correct monuments of the National Hero in the country. It is well maintained and has nothing of kitchiness you find in other cities. When we were there, Department of Tourism Regional Director (for northern Mindanao) Catalino Chan dropped by to assist local officials in laying a flower wreath to the statue of the hero.

By eight o’ clock in the evening, the city begins to lull its way to sleep. There are no nightclubs in the city. That probably explains why crime rate in the city is low. Inspite of the bad press being heaped on some of its officials, the city wants to promote its real story – that it is one of the most peaceful, livable and abundantly blessed cities in the country, an undisputable fact that has earned it with two Good Governance Recognition awards from the DILG in recent years.

“We want to tell the entire Philippines and the whole world the real news that people should believe. We are a city that takes care of its people and we don’t do it with words, we walk the talk. We want people to come to Ozamiz, to experience the real truth,” says charming but highly determined vice mayor Nova Princess Parojinog-Echavez. 

Parojinog-Echavez was former mayor of the city, becoming the second-youngest elected mayor in the Philippines in 2010. She started her political career by being observant and developing her innate desire to serve the people. Following her father’s footsteps, she ran first as a councilor, for which she emerged topnotcher. She proved her doubters wrong by fulfilling her mandated tasks, delivering and cascading social services to the people. She slid down to vice-mayorship to give way to his father Reynaldo Parojinog Sr., who won in the last elections. The elder Parojinog has aligned himself with Duterte's tough war on drugs advocacy, saying, "I am serious in our drive against illegal drugs in the city."  Parojinog prioritized drug issues in his program when he was first elected as mayor in 2001. He laments how his name is now being dragged into the illegal drugs controversy and how his political opponents are twisting the story.

Why is Parojinog-Echavez very active in promoting Ozamiz tourism? “It is my advocacy and close to my heart. We’ve seen how tourism changed the lives of many people in Ozamiz. I want my people from all walks of life, from a lowly vendor to an investing entrepreneur benefit from tourism. We want to create opportunities for my constituents,” Parojinog-Echavez says with passion.

To do that, the lady vice mayor is focusing on infrastructure as priority. “Roads leading to many Ozamiz tourist destinations are being improved. We moved mountains and earth to have the city airport (unused for 13 years) reopened to spur tourism and business growth in the city. Now, it is capable of accommodating Airbus aircrafts. We hope to see night flights to the city soon,” she  excitedly says. 

Ozamiz Airport is scheduled to undergo a P300M expansion and development, with installation of runway lights, extension of runway from its current of length 1.9 km to 2.1 km and construction of a new passenger terminal building by next year.

She says, plans are also afoot in redeveloping many tourism programs for the city, like Sports Tourism even on a small scale. The city government has also embarked a comprehensive program in its anti-drug campaign and rehabilitation measures to make drug users productive. “We want to address the problem at the very roots. We want to turn around the problem by giving them hope - through Dragon fruit cultivation and livestock raising, for example,” she explains.

Heart-stopping adventure

“It is very inspiring to see how the local government and private sector in Ozamiz City work together to make the city a premier tourist destination. Ozamiz has much to offer - the warmth of the people, its rich heritage, fantastic shoreline, mountain range and outdoor activity are yours to enjoy,” says DOT Assistant Secretary Ricky Alegre. Alegre was sent by Secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo to personally look at the potentials of Ozamiz for tourism over the long weekend. He was right, a look at the list below shows the enormous possibilities of Ozamiz.

A spellbinding experience awaits the more adventurous to Hoyohoy Highland Adventure Park, Asia’s longest (1.225 kilometers (one way) and highest  (500 meters) Zipline. The daredevil ride gives one a drone-like panoramic view, including a jaw-dropping sight of a ravine 500 meters below. 

The highlight is when you reach midway - you see a gushing river snaking through the base of menacing but beautiful Malindang mountain range. Mountain-climbing enthusiasts will remember Malindang as the training base-camp of a group Filipinos before they challenged Mt. Everest a couple of years back.

Other places worth visiting: Bukagan Hill has a view of the city, Panguil Bay, the provinces of Lanao del Norte and Zamboanga del Sur. There are four iron bells at the top of Bukagan Hill, each weighing 7 tons. They were installed in Bukagan Hill and officially inaugurated on July 16, 1948.

Naomi's Botanical Garden and Tourists Inn sits on a 12-hectare property producing local and imported tropical flowers, plants and fruit seedlings. There are fully air-conditioned private rooms, function halls, a tennis court, golf range, ceramics factory, pottery and a bakery inside its sprawling garden. 

Mt. Malindang Golf and Country Club. This is a pre-war army facility converted into a golf course located in Bagakay at the foot of Mount Malindang.

Immaculate Conception Pipe Organ is found in the choir loft of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, the only existing pipe organ in Mindanao and one among the few in the country. 

Helping hand from DOT

Public service in travel and tourism is a collaborative effort among different government agencies, according to Tito Umali, DOT, Chief Tourism Operations Officer-Public Affairs and Advocacy. “We extend assistance through publicity with national, and in some cases, foreign media, depending on how ready LGU's tourist destinations are for national and/or international standards,” he says.

In addition to publicity, Umali says, DOT promotes the destination by inviting LGU to participate in regional, national and international tourism events such as travel fairs, road shows and official missions. “We also extend assistance in tourism market research, relevant trainings on tourism services for the local people of the LGU, and infrastructure development related to accessibility and facilities,” he says.  

Conversation with Umali and Northern Mindanao Tourism Operations Officer Decius Esmedalla gave us many interesting views. Both stress the need for tourism sustainability. “We must not exceed our carrying capacity and we should have control mechanisms in preserving our tourist attractions for future generation. We should not only think about the business side like what is now happening to some Philippine destinations that are under threat because of overcapacity,” Esmedalla says.

Is Ozamis ready for the world? Rommel Natanauan, DOT Creative Specialist says, “Ozamiz City boasts of beautiful natural attractions, rich cultural heritage, properties primed for farm tourism, adventure and reacreational facilities, aside from being exempted from typhoons. The city’s tourism potentials, as well as the readiness of its people, together with the Subanon tribe, Ozamiz, indeed, like the Dragon fruit, is ripe for tourism.”