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.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017


by Roger Pe
Business Mirror
November 12, 2017 issue
Old photos never die. They fascinate me and I make them live. Some people say they can also talk. So each time I stumble into them, I spend precious minutes looking at them, hoping I could learn something, and maybe, hear their ‘whispers’, to find out what they want me to know and listen to what they want me to hear. 
I am like a scanner. I don’t gloss over them. I peer to the littlest detail, looking for an interesting find. 
It was a gloomy, rainy September afternoon. Barely arriving from Manila and visiting Puerto Princesa after almost five years, I braved the weather and scanned the city by foot – to, strangely, find out about an imposing structure near where my parents and siblings used to live, the Immaculate Conception Cathedral. 
The church has intrigued me ever since I was a boy. Arousing my curiosity, too, was the old big house behind it, built around the 1900s to my estimation. I have long wondered who lived there. That day, made me ask the same nagging query.
After thirty minutes, I realized it was not a good day to have come to the area. Three offices of the seminary, the admin, library and another one I don’t want to bother recalling now, each pointed me to different directions. I walked away and headed to Plaza Cuartel, the landmark people often see on every city tour map. At the entrance, I saw a sign, saying: “Visit the War Museum”. A War Museum in Puerto Princesa? No kidding. 

Not wanting to go back to my hotel, I waved at the first tricycle I saw. Approaching me, the driver slowed down, as if trying to figure out if he knew me. Whatever, I told him to take me to Bancao-Bancao, where the museum was supposed to be located (one and half kilometers, straight up ahead where I was). He told me, “Magkano ang bigay n’yo?” “Huh, I should be asking you that question, di ba” I told him. Avoiding negative vibes, I answered: “Just take me there, just me as your passenger, and if you’re not reckless, I will give you one hundred.” 
The War Museum
At the door of the well-kept Palawan Special Battalion World War II Memorial Museum, the official name, a lovely young lady, (another walking encyclopaedia, as Puerto Princesa tour guides are now beginning to be known for) smiled at me. Obviously, she was from the city, based on her accent, I can tell. 
Three minutes into the first module of the exhibit, I picked up my jaw on the floor. I saw never-been-published photos of the church, its horrific transition, from the time Spanish priest Exzequiel Moreno built it from bamboos in 1872 to coral stones, to the time Japanese soldiers bombed it to smithereens.  I also finally got the answer to a lingering question: Who lived in that house behind it? John Clark, the former American Governor, his Filipina wife Concepcion Miraflores Palanca, and their nine children, one of them would be the wife of a hero.
The museum is virtually, a treasure trove for people who love history, unassuming along a quiet, secluded street that explodes with brilliant colors of Fire and Cherry Blossoms trees during summer. It is just mindblowing.
Then of course, I learned and re-learned the life story of Dr. Higinio A. Mendoza, Sr., Palawan’s greatest hero. For the benefit of new generation of Palawenos, this is an attempt to relive his love for country, and the museum that was built in his honor, also a tribute to other homegrown guerilla soldiers who died in the war. 

To their memory, this article brings its gratitude for their exploits, some of them, sadly, still unknown to their provincemates to this day. 

Here’s my personal interview with Mendoza’s second to the eldest son, Higinio “Buddy” Mendoza, Jr.
Higinio Mendoza, Sr.
Fate was unkind to Dr. Higinio A. Mendoza, Sr. He was born during the Spanish-American War, one of the most turbulent chapters in Philippine history, and grew to his adulthood when World War II was breaking out. 
He was thrown in a war everyone did not like, and when it was time for him to serve his motherland, he was captured by the Japanese Imperial Army and met his grisly death. To add more sadness, Philippine history books are profuse in mentioning Bataan, Corregidor, Cavite, Cabanatuan, Malinta, Manila, Lingayen, Leyte, etc. 

None had mentioned the strategic importance of Palawan and Puerto Princesa Airport in the bigger picture - in stark contrast to the recognition accorded to the latter by the Americans during the war, and in the way both are exalted in the Hall of Heroes of American War Memorial in Bonifacio Global City today.
At the outbreak of war, Palawan was one of few Philippine provinces closest to most Southeast Asian countries where the Japanese had also attacked. In the “Invasion of Palawan” book, a high-ranking American official, General Eichelberger said: “It was important that aircrafts based in Palawan intercept missions as far as Indochina, cut off Japanese sea lanes in the South China Sea, and also reach Japanese oil installations in Borneo.” 
That was the reason why he chose the 41st Infantry Division of Major General Jens Doe to conduct the Palawan, Zamboanga and Sulu operations. 

And now that we have all seen the military significance of the main island of Palawan, based on Eichelberger’s words, let’s all go back in time. To know Higinio Sr. much better, and why, you and I, should commemorate his death.
Early life of a hero
The fifth of six children of Agustin Mendoza and Juana Acosta, life was not easy for the young Higinio Sr. As a kid, he and older brother Bernardino, would sing and dance for some townfolks and sell vegetables on the street.They all did this to earn a few centavos for their school ‘baon’.
But, alas, the boy who started his elementary schooling in Puerto Princesa, and early years in Palawan High School (when it was still located in Cuyo), was already showing sterling leadership qualities. He even astounded everyone by becoming a cadet captain, member of a champion debating team and president of his 1919 graduating class.
It was not customary for Palawenos to take collegiate studies in Manila in those days, much more enrol in an expensive course, Medicine. And offshore at that. Where would he get money to finance a mainstream course? 

Higinio was different. He had thought that if he only worked hard and strived for what he wanted, he would get it.
Higinio ignited his ambition and fired it till he became a doctor. Why? He had seen how hard life was in a seemingly God-forsaken province, a land almost totally forgotten by national government officials, where development was painstakingly slow, and Malaria always took people’s lives away from their loved ones. 

His dream was not driven by a selfish desire, but because his community has not seen a doctor for ages. 
And so, with a leap of faith, armed with prayers provided by his loving parents in his suitcase, Higinio crossed the big wide Pacific, boarded a Russian ship and studied in Iowa State University and University of Indiana. He then enrolled at Hahnemann Medical College to obtain a Doctor of Medicine, and finished with a degree in 1928.
As an intern at a children’s homeopathic hospital and in St. Luke, Philadelphia, Higinio founded a Filipino students’ club in Iowa State University, eventually becoming chairman of the university’s foreign students association. In between, he worked as an elevator boy, janitor, dishwasher, helper, and did many other odd jobs to keep body and soul together. He also pursued many other extra-curricular activities to enrich himself mentally, even becoming associate editor of “The Medic,” the Hahnemann Medical College Yearbook, an outstanding achievement for a little known Palaweno then.
After staying in the U.S. for eleven years, Higinio arrived in the Philippines. As a full-pledged doctor, Palawenos in Manila gave him a warm welcome and a banquet, rejoicing in the exemplary achievement of a ‘kababayan’ who had made good. His gift of the gab also made him a most sought after speaker. The ensuing events would also thrust him into the political arena.
Higinio was elected governor in 1931, winning by a landslide, was reelected in 1934 but lost on his third bid when Cuyo and the rest of the Calamianes island voters opted to vote for his opponent. It was an offshoot of his decision to move Palawan High School from Cuyo to mainland Palawan, an act that angered people of the northern island group. Higinio stuck to his belief, saying: “The only provincial high school should be in the mainland where it could be more accessed by many young people.”

Now on private medical practice, he continued to serve the needy, giving free medical services and medicines to his constituents. He underwent further training as a medical and reserve officer in the Philippine Army Medical Corps. During that time, war was brewing and the brave man that he was, already anticipated what was going to be the worst scenario: Fight the enemy to the end. With that, he organized the first guerilla force in Palawan.
The Japanese invasion
It was the worst of times. People would often gather infront of Higinio’s house everyday, to get news about the looming war. He had a radio, a gadget that gave him updated news from the outside world. He would tell his people not to despair, but unite, resist the enemy, and that America would “liberate the country soon”.
A few days before the Japanese invaded Puerto Princesa, he made sure that everyone left town, including his family whom he relocated to barrio Babuyan. When the Japanese came, he was the last to leave.
Prior to the mass evacuation of people out of Puerto Princesa, Higinio attended a meeting organized by then Governor Gaudencio Abordo to decide on a course of action. 

With provincial officials and leading citizens attending, and him dominating that meeting, everyone unanimously voted for a ‘Free Palawan Government,” a de facto form of governance by Palawenos at some safe place in the jungles in the north. 

This made Palawan one of only three provinces in the entire country to establish a free government, with its own currency (“Script”) to boot.
Higinio’s guerilla unit was designated as Company A of Palawan Special Battalion, the raison d’etre for the existence of “Free Palawan Government”. Its main role was to ambush Japanese patrols as an offensive and defensive force, focusing on jungle warfare. 
His resistance movement eventually grew in number and became a formidable force each day, frightening local collaborators in the town. They knew that with him orchestrating the movement, they will all be wiped out. In retaliation, the traitors made an appeal to the Japanese to hunt him, dead or alive.
Mendoza’s capture
As in many stories of trust, treachery and deception, one of Higinio’s men, a soldier named Namia, fell into Japanese hands. Egged on to divulge what he knew about the former’s whereabouts, Namia, eventually volunteered to guide the enemy to Higinio’s hiding place in Roxas. Soon after, two barges with an army of Japanese soldiers were launched and make him fall into the dragnet.
At dawn, in sitio Jolo, Tinitian, Roxas, just as he was about to take his breakfast, a gunshot rang out in the air. Running to the bedroom to check on his family, Higinio was met by several Japanese soldiers who immediately pointed guns at him. He was led away from his family, roughly manhandled and tied with a rope. Trinidad, his wife cried and cried but was kicked in the abdomen by Japanese soldiers. Higinio told him calmly, “Be brave, we can die for our country.” 
He went under heavy questioning and by afternoon, the Japanese soldiers decided that he would be taken to Puerto Princesa. At that very moment, he knew that it would be the last time that he would see his family.
Many people travelled far to see him. His sister Agustina walked with her sons from Aborlan to comfort him. Meanwhile, his enemies had a heyday celebrating his capture. Higinio was allowed to make a speech in public though. 

In one of those instances, he said: “It’s good that they chanced upon me in the house with my family. Had I been in the camp with my soldiers, there would be much bloodshed and I would never surrender.”
In the morning of January 24, 1944, Higinio was executed before a firing squad inside his father-in-law’s (John Clark) coconut plantation in Canigaran, Puerto Princesa. Tagbanua natives who were working in the area, heard rifle shots but never revealed the killing site until 1947 for fear of the Japanese. After a series of long searches, a group of civilians found his remains but his skull was not in the grave. They are now interred in a memorial marker at Mendoza Park, the city’s main plaza.
No retreat, no surrender
Higinio would have escaped execution had he accepted allegiance to the Japanese flag. But he refused not to serve in the puppet government. 

He chose to face death rather than betray his country. Before he died, he left these words to his family: “Do not be afraid, don’t be sad. Not many are given the privilege to die for his country.”
During the interview, Higinio’s second second son, Philippine Coast Guard Auxiliary and VADM Higinio C. Mendoza, Jr.was misty-eyed as he quoted the same line. 

“Buddy” as he is often called by Palawenos in Puerto Princesa, was a former city Councilor, Vice Mayor and founded the Palawan Special Battalion WW-II Museum. He financed it on his own to honor his father. 
It was inaugurated on December 5, 2011 and was officially open to the public on the day of Pearl Harbor bombing on December 7. It is located along Rizal Avenue Extension, Barangay Bancao-Bancao, PuertoPrincesa City. The museum is also in honor of the Palawan Fighting 1000 Guerilla and American soldiers who sacrificed their lives in defense of their freedom. Through the years, it received artifacts and war items from relatives of World War II survivors.
Among those on display: A historic typewriter used by the “Free Palawan Government” in printing Palawan Script Money during WWII. A WW2 era Willy’s jeep to .50 caliber guns, rifles, pistols and photos that chronicle the war era and that of the Palawan POW’s. It also has the most complete collection of bayonets and helmets used in the war. The museum brings to life memorabilia items which many people today have not seen. Artifacts from the American Muslim conflict in the early 1900’s and a 1957 Buick are also on display.
One of Buddy’s sons is Matthew Mendoza, currently City Councilor of Puerto Princesa.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017


By Roger Pe
Business Mirror
November 9, 2017 issue

Pink. Red and white make up its characteristics: Passion and energy. Peace and purity. The mixture gives you a color that is commonly associated with romance. Though also associated with femininity, it has a deeper meaning: Love, caring and understanding humanity.

Pink also makes one an intuitive person. To wear something pink these days, means you have a streak of courage, a complete paradox to its usual meaning. Pink also connotes someone who doesn’t pay much attention to the opinions of others, one who doesn’t care too much about conforming to social norms.  

The pink color of the exuberantly beautiful Palawan “Balayong” tree flower, commonly referred to as “Palawan Cherry Blossom”, is now the symbol of Puerto Princesa, a long overdue recognition. That, too, will bloom all-year round, accentuating another city symbol that has graced its seal for many years, the regal Pheasant Peacock, locally known as “Tandikan”.

In the design, the plumage of the rare bird is symmetrically spread out in quintet fashion, providing a royal background to its silhouette. The bird’s crowning glory, the head feathers are proudly captured, as if trumpeting its princess presence. 

The new emblem speaks the heart and vision of the city. Underneath the design, the new tagline, albeit long, says it all, “Where nature begins and never ends.”

Puerto Princesa, by definition, is nature, and by reality, nature at its best. Though tourism and commercialization are encroaching at an unprecedented pace, the city maintains a close grip to preserve what it is largely known for – iron bastion for environmental conservation, uncompromisingly enforcing it and tightening the lid on any form of degradation of its natural resources.

Back in the 60s and towards the 70s, when the city was still a sleepy town and practically everyone knew everyone, it was customary to see bamboo cages packed with Mynahs (“K’yaw”), Palawan Blue-Naped Parrots (“Pikoy”), Cockatoos (“Katala”), Bear Cats (“Binturong”), Pangolins and Palawan Scrubfowl (“Tabon”) in the market. The latter’s egg, triple the size of a chicken egg, can be had for a few centavos. 

I remember a line of stalls in the market dealing in covert endangered species trade, which went on unabated for years. I should know because I lived and slept there, right behind our modest wood and ‘sawali’ house. 

During those years, people had the mistaken notion that because they were plenty and one could hardly feel any restrictive law enforced, it was okay to sell and buy them. 

Though sometimes discreet, they would turn into raucous heights during Sundays, when ‘viajeros’ from Manila come down from the ‘pantalan’, strut their urban bearings and engage in wholesale buying.

It was a lucrative business for some locals who had contacts from far-flung, heavily forested ‘barrios’, and natives who could easily be swayed by the promise of easy money, sacks of rice or plain used clothes.

The brisk trade made the ‘palengke’ looked like an old frontier-town, reminiscent of the time of James Brooke, father of Sarawak who also went as far as establishing a tribe in Brooke’s Point, southern Palawan.

When the trade was at its peak, the ‘palengke’ usually was textured by the sound of captured Wild Boars (“Baboy Damo”), scent of wild honey and ‘Almaciga’ (tree resin), and made picturesque by the colors of wild “Sanggumays” and “Dapo” orchids - all put on the block by ambulant traders. 

For years, the ‘palengke’ on Calero Street was “The Wild Animals Hub”, frequented by Manila businessmen, who must have enriched themselves by engaging in rare Palawan flora and fauna trafficking. They became regulars, in cahoots with local middlemen. If it was easy to sneak in a pair of Mynah birds in a carton box (you puncture holes on both sides to make them breathe) on a plane then, how much more loading crates of them onboard commercial shipping lines?

Of course, those were the days. The city has matured and awakened. The citizens now self-police their ranks, and slowly, everyone has become guardians of the environment through constant awareness. I should say an environment reboot turned the tide, and a conscious effort to protect nature became a religion and way of life. 

Through the years, Puerto Princesa has put the province on the map by its landmark forest preservation, reforestation and economic sustainability programs, a model followed by other countries in the world. So what’s next?

Future shape of the city

Migration to the city has spread far and wide, notably San Miguel, San Pedro, Tiniguiban, Santa Monica, Irawan, San Jose, and as far as Santa Lourdes. Sicsican, is literally ‘siksikan’ (crowded). Even the once bucolic Iwahig is feeling the pinch. The national highway in San Miguel and San Pedro is the most choked during rush hours, highly unthinkable 12 years ago. 

“Meron din kaming mga pangarap” (we also have dreams), says a humble Lucilo Bayron, mayor of the city, silent think-tank and chief strategist of the city, even from way back. Bayron was Puerto Princesa’s Vice Mayor from 2004 until May 2013. He was elected Mayor after that.

Bayron wants to solve the problem, and is seeking help from the Public Works and Highways Department to finance his dream project: The 3 billion, 4-kilometer long, first of a series, Puerto Princesa Skyway. 

This will connect the city proper, from Baywalk to Santa Monica National Highway to the southern part of the city. 
The mayor assures: No impact on marine environment when the construction goes full throttle.

Spectacular airport

The city’s rich biodiversity inspired architects and planners to design a futuristic international airport for Puerto Princesa. If you have been to the departure area, the main attraction is the Biodome, a spectacular architectural centerpiece that replicates symbols of the city’s forest of flora and fauna.

Designed in a radial manner, the Biodome reflects the movements of plants and trees that are abundant in the city. The Tower is a living structure, with plants crawling up to the top. The columns follow the shape of caterpillars, making it the first living airport in the Philippines. The outer perimeter has giant Acacia trees highlighting a well-manicured landscape.

The airport is now one of the country’s main aviation arteries with direct flights from Taiwan, Korea, Brunei, and with many others to follow.

Future shape of the city

“We want new generations of people from this city to be proud of their God-given Paradise and appreciate its remarkable beauty,” says Bayron. Corollary to that, he proudly showed us the shape of things to come to the city that is now becoming the melting pot of the Philippines.

One of them is a masterplan of the helix-shaped, glass-encased “DNA Tower”, symbolic of man’s infinite love for humanity and environment, thoroughly futuristic in design and envisioned to be the tallest building outside of Metro-Manila.

Located in the earthquake-proof province, the soon-to-be-most environmentally friendly building in the Philippines will have 38 floors, 127 meters in height, a total building area of 7,218 square meters, twisted solar panel design, lower and upper viewing decks, state-of-the-art escalator and elevator systems and a statue on top. 

The spectacular building will rise in “Balayong Park” Santa Monica on a 1,292 square meter ground floor space, and will have 12 rentable spaces and main reception area. 

Integrated Fish Port

Did you know that 38% of fish that land in Navotas, 30% in Lucena, 32% in Iloilo, and 25% in General Santos all come from Palawan waters? That is based on the latest statistics provided by the Philippine Fisheries and Development Authority.

Under Bayron’s governance, the city will expand and fully integrate the current fish port of Puerto Princesa – to help increase its fish output by 30%. A new and modern processing facility, patterned after Japan’s famous Tsukiji market will arise.

Designed to showcase Puerto Princesa’s lead role in the province, as well as in the country’s economic growth and economically sustainable development, the project aims to benefit low-income sectors and spur investments in fish processing and tourism industries, provide employment and livelihood, and serve as a focal point for marine research and development. 

“Balayong Park”

Though over 30 Cherry Blossom trees were planted in Atok, Benguet last year, Puerto Princesa will dwarf that number and have the world’s largest park planted to “Balayong” (Cherry Blossom) trees. 

“It is going to be a park within a park within a park,” said Bayron who also excitedly revealed that the city will launch an “Adopt A Tree” program, encouraging city folks to own a tree and make it part of their own family.

Last year, thousands of Puerto Princesans planted 3,200 “Balayong” trees within a 5-kilometer radius of Palawan State University and City Hall. When they bloom in 5 years, it is hoped to rival Japan’s famous “Sakura Garden”.

The “Balayong"  is a species native to Southeast Asia and reaches up to 25 meters in height and 50 centimeters in diameter. Because of logging and slash-and-burn farming, its number is dwindling. Contrary to the popular belief, it is not a relative of the Japanese Cherry Blossoms tree but closer to Acacia, Narra and Tindalo families. 

The park will have a restaurant with a view deck, ecumenical chapel, meditation garden, ampitheatre, food complex, museum, library, artists’ pavilion for art exhibits including fitness, recreational and children parks. 

“We planted “Balayong” instead of other trees because we want the next generation look back to this historical day, when we united to establish this park,” Bayron said.

The three-year project is in line with the city’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan, which recognizes the vital role of parks and open spaces in making the city more sustainable and attractive.

Cruise ship capital

Because it is closer to most Asian cities, Puerto Princesa deservingly earned the “Cruise ship capital of the Philippines”. 

The financial and geographical center of Palawan welcomed almost a million or more foreign tourists from world-renowned luxury ships over a three-year period.

Here they are: Superstar Aquarius, Costa Victoria, Caledonian Sky, Azamara Quest, Albatross, Seabourn Sojourn, Legend of the Seas, Paciic Venus, Europa, Bremen, L’Austral, Le Soleal, Hamburg, Artania, Queen Elizabeth and Silver Shadow.

“Puerto Princesa Bay has one of the best ports in Asia because it is inside a bay surrounded by mountains. Obviously, it is perfect for this mode of travel. It is also unlike other towns in the northern part of the province – it has a natural harbor and is sheltered from typhoons all-year round,” City Tourism Officer Aileen Amurao stressed.

Last August 22, 2015, November 6 and November 24 of the same year, the world-renowned Royal Caribbean cruise ship “Legend of the Seas” docked on the city port and brought a total of 16,800 passengers and over 6,600 crew ship members. 

“We are making the most out of this positive sign. Our long term plan is further improve our terminal to make it on the level, if not better than other Asian ports,” Amurao added.

Behold, the “Butandings”

I almost missed this trip from lack of sleep. I was ready not to show up in Baywalk, our jump off point to the open sea, where a 6-hour of sailing would take us to the Whale Shark enclave. 

When we arrived, Dutch tourists Willhelm Niewland and Krysia Wielogroch were already putting their lifevests on, so excited for the adventure of their lifetime. The two travelled by land to Puerto Princesa from El Nido. They were not supposed to join the trip but changed their plans when they saw a flyer in their city hotel and got curious.  

After master diver Andy Leonor, our guide and “Butanding” expert briefed us on the “dos and donts” we sailed around Puerto Princesa Bay and out into the Sulu Sea. A few miles more, we would have reached Tubbataha Reef.

Then, we saw a commotion on the water surface, twenty meters ahead 
 of our boat. A swarm of sea gulls then hovered around the ‘turbulence’. Moving closer, we saw that they were actually schools of Tuna and Anchovies being chased by, the one we were also chasing, the “Butanding”.

The Dutch couple excitedly jumped into the water, unmindful that it was 100 to 180 feet deep. The two ferociously swam and wanted to get closer but the first one we saw sped away. That was 9am, and by 10:30, no sign of another “Butanding” came. 

We were beginning to get disappointed but by 11am, we saw ‘turbulences’ left and right of out boat – tell tale signs that the “Butandings” were frolicking in the area. For one full hour, we were treated to an adventure of our lives, the glory of seeing Whale Sharks, gliding around and under our boat, their fins out of water. We shouted with glee when one even pranced vertically astride. 

The infectious excitement everyone was having made me reach for my diving fins and snorkel gear, forcing me to jump into the water. A bit scared, I stayed close to the bamboo outrigger, clinging to it as tightly as I could. I dived for a moment and stayed underwater for about 20 seconds. And then there it was, the sea behemoth, 40 feet long to my estimation.

Unlike in some parts of the Philippines where the “Butandings” are almost ‘caged’, it is different in Puerto Princesa, they are in the wild, open sea. When a ‘Spotter’ also announces a whale shark presence, not more than one boat swarm or ‘attack’ it.
Visibility is also wonderfully crystal clear.

Firefly Watching

Don’t omit this from your bucket list if you want to experience Nature’s magical and spellbinding beauty.

In Puerto Princesa’s Iwahig and Irawan rivers, the mangrove trees sparkle like Christmas trees. They are here to mesmerize you and make your stay in the city truly unforgettable.

Fireflies are not found all over the world, only in areas where Oxygen is clean. They glow primarily to attract mates in the dark. These displays are quite beautiful. Edison Dalanon, our gregarious tour guide, explains: “A flying male will find a usually non-flying female by looking for her flashing lights. Some fireflies actually synchronize their flashes, so an entire tree or area will flash on and off.”

Whether it is the Iwahig or Irawan Firefly Watching that you booked, you won’t certainly regret every single second of this trip.

War Museum

Privately managed, and repository of never before seen photos, artifacts and memorabilia from pre-war to World War II. 

The museum also has a collection of photos of American “Thomasites” when they came to Cuyo islands, and those of Japanese officers who terrorized American soldiers and their subsequent court martial proceedings.

Guns, ammunitions and weapons of war are on display, including bombs and mortars, rifles and bayonets. An authentic Japanese flag, with members of a soldier’s family wishing him goodbye, is poignant.

The museum was founded by Higinio “Buddy” Mendoza, Jr., to honor his father, Higinio Mendoza, Sr., Palawan’s greatest hero, as well as all Palaweno guerillas who fought defending Puerto Princesa and the entire province during the war. Mendoza Sr., was a doctor, Palawan Governor from 1931-1938 and organized the first Guerilla Unit (A Company) in 1942. He was executed by the Japanese army in a grisly manner.

Beautiful hotels

Where before you can count by your fingers the number of places to stay in Puerto Princesa, there are now plenty of places to stay. The city is a virtual tourist haven catering to visitors belonging to different demographics: Backpackers, Bed-and-Breakfast travellers, those who are travelling on a shoestring budget to the most finicky. 

The multinational chains are also making their presence felt, providing world-beating hospitality. The trailblazers are still providing legendary service, like the Microtel Wyndham, the only beachfront hotel offering a spectacular view of Palawan sunrise, and wide expanse of historic Canigaran Beach.

The Imperial Palace Palawan Resort Hotel is fast shaping up, with no less than the award-winning architecture shop WTA Architecture and Design Studio at the helm.

Bankrolled by a Korean business group, the P1.9 billion water park project located in Barangay Santa Lourdes, is proof of the city’s viability as an investment haven for tourism growth and real estate development. When finished, the 15-storey Imperial Palace will have 367 rooms, private pool villas, restaurants, water parks, hot spa and a hot spring.

Then there’s Aventura Resort, built like a ranch, with a “Kubotel” (bahay kubo with amenities of a luxurious hotel), and home to the White Cockatoo (“Katala”). If you want a respite from the madness of city-living, this is the place to stay, a paradise where you are lulled to sleep by the sound of countless birds.

If you’re a no-nonsense tourist and travelling to different parts of rugged Palawan, Casitas is the place to be. Peaceful, with unobtrusive service and ever-smiling staff, they will arrange any kind of tour for you within the city. 

Looking for value for money? Worth mentioning are: Jillian Inn, Cecille’s Inn, Mercedes Bed and Breakfast, Aniceto Pension House, Dang Marias, RAQ Pensionne, Nevas, CafĂ© Loreto and Casa Gloria.

“100 Caves” and counting

On your way to Underground River (World Heritage Site and one of 7 New Wonders of Nature), you will never miss a limestone karst mountain in Barangay Tagabinet, a solitary rock formation near the roadside. 

What makes it intriguing is its outer color. It looks like it’s been painted with white enamel but it is actually has the color of first grade marble. It got its name from countless caverns that seem infinite as you explore in and out. 

My biggest achievement happened here. I conquered my claustropbia after trekking an almost vertical 80-meter rock to reach the cave’s main entrance. We stayed in the cave’s inner sanctum for almost one and half hours and rapelled back to the ground when rain started to fall.

The landmark is an awesome sight way past Buenavista’s rain forest and before you reach Cabayugan, a barangay with similar towering, grotesque limestone structure.

Acacia Tunnel

Reputedly, the world’s longest Acacia tree canopy, stretching from a portion of Barangay Irawan to Iwahig and on to Inagawan and near the boundary of Aborlan town. 

The spectacular wonder of nature could be a candidate for UNESCO World Heritage site. The lung of Puerto Princesa is also home to thousands species of flora and fauna. Properly developed, it could be another attraction of a city that is already gifted with a thousand and one wonders by nature.

Underground River port modernization

Meanwhile, construction of P100-million Sabang Integrated Wharf Development project will commence early part of 2018. Expected to be completed in 5 years, the new modern wharf that will guarantee utmost convenience for tourists visiting the famous Underground River.

The Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority, (TIEZA) has initially funded the P15-million project design. When finished the terminal can accommodate over 300 visitors and will have a museum showcasing the park’s amazing biodiversity.

The upgraded wharf will include a modern boat docking area, breakwater, tourist esplanade, drop-off area, parking and an efficient, systemized tourist service.