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.