Friday, March 16, 2018


By Roger Pe
Business Mirror
March 17, 2018 issue

Serendipity, I met Ric Autajay and his wife Ces on a ship, about the same time last year. It was the maiden voyage of Star Virgo, the 19-year old luxury vessel to Manila, a much-publicized event that hugged lifestyle sections of many broadsheets in the metro. 

The 13-storey ship with 2,600-passenger capacity and 935 cabins had carried 2,000 Filipino tourists per sailing over a three-month period - to Laoag, Kaoshiung and Hongkong. 

It happened on our last night on the ship, where all passengers were requested to attend a black-tie gala dinner. As the ship was heading back to Manila, we agreed to meet in the grand lobby. On that crowded night when the bands were playing loud music and people were pushing elbow-to-elbow to get to the dining hall, I suddenly became sociable (I was chasing deadlines the night before). Alas, that happened only for less than one hour. I had lost them in the stream of people and I thought I would never ever see them again.

Fast forward after 12 months, I would meet them again in San Jose de Buenavista, Antique, on the opening of national SCUAA (State Colleges and Universities Athletic Association) sports meet, part of our DOT media familiarization tour activities that the Western Visayas Tourism council had planned for us.

As he toured me around the town, Ric told me his story. Being a retired captain of large foreign ships, it was time to get to know him better and know how it was to travel around the world, living on a ship most of the year. Now happily building his gasoline station business and tending to his fish farm, I would learn later on that he has also helped a lot of people in Antique pursue a maritime career. 

The subject of Filipinos always being away from their homeland always interested me, and the fact that Ric had mentioned that he had circled the world many times excited me more. As I was writing this article, I was wondering how many Filipino seamen are sailing the world seas right now, and why shipping companies prefer to hire them than other sailors from other countries. 

According to DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment), the country remains to be the world’s top source of seafarers, with around 229,000 Filipinos on board merchant shipping vessels around the world at any given time. Filipino seafarers comprise more than 25 percent of the 1.5 million mariners worldwide, making them the “single biggest nationality bloc” in the global shipping industry. 

In a study made by the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO), 358,898 Filipino seafarers were deployed last year, infusing about $5.575 billion to the country’s economy through their remittances.

Filipinos are the most preferred seafarers in the world because they are better trained and proficient in English.

Ric emphasized the importance of English communication, especially in life and death situation in the middle of the sea. He related a horror story that caused logistical nightmares to his shipping company when a foreign crew mistook a message and delivered “ice” instead of “rice” to a foreign port during a typhoon.

Being a seaman gave Ric a great satisfaction to provide for his family and some form of financial stability. “The fact that I would like to feel being an adventurer, to see many places in the world and still get paid for doing it excited me no end,” he said. Ric, who was expected to be away from his family for at least ten months every year prepared for the worst. He and his wife and made some adjustments.

“What’s the difference between manning a vessel and a cruise chip, I asked. “Being a seaman and a captain at the same time, is a big responsibility. You are dealing with millions of dollars of goods to be transported to some specific locations all over the world, and making a safe voyage without any major problems to the vessel, its crew and the company as well,” he emphasized. A cruise ship crew has its own way of dealing with thousands of passengers on board to make them safe and enjoy their trips,” said.

To be successful being a seaman, Ric gave important pointers: “First of all, you need a degree in nautical or maritime science to be eligible for an on-board training experience with subsequent testing process until you get to the highest level of being a captain, which takes about five years to accomplish,” he said.

“On top of that, maritime law requires you to have a rigid training onboard ocean navigation with specific scenarios. The traits you need to have: You must be calm, level headed and very knowledgeable on all aspects of seagoing oceanography, that includes safety of life and protection of the environment at sea (to maintain the blue color of our oceans),” he added.

He also stressed that one must be passionate about being a maritime adventurer, you must have the determination, decisiveness and diligence,” he pointed out.

His career as a seaman started on April 1973 until July 2015, a span of 42 years. Among his many memorable trips was being an apprentice onboard a freight vessel from Manila to the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, to Hawaii and trans-exiting through the Panama Canal, and then to Philadelphia, USA - a full circle of an exciting but very challenging internship.

He has sailed to Scandinavian seas, Europe, Africa, the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and South American sealanes. 

What about his most frightening experience? Ric related that it happened near Alaska when he and his men encountered a bad weather during winter. The temperature was below zero and a hurricane was fast approaching ready to slam their boat with a brute force. It almost rendered him witless but he and his men were able to manage and pull through the storm.

He would also get many awards throughout his career. The highest award he received was from Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL), the Japan presidential award given out during the first Annual General Meeting for safe operation on December 10, 2008, an industry gathering sponsored by Japan’s Safety Operation Headquarters. 

He also received a plaque of appreciation from Toyota Automotive Company for safe, efficient operation with zero damage in transporting cargoes. During the time, the biggest issue facing the company was maintaining safety, maintaining zero incidents, and to make the safety of the vessel as well as sefarers the highest priority. The plaque has been onboard the vessel, on display throughout his tenure as captain of the vessel.

Born in Hamtic, Antique, Ric attended primary schooling in the same town and finished high school in Antique National School (ANS) in San Jose. At Iloilo Maritime Academy, he finished an Associate in Nautical Science college degree. His parents were Mariano Xavier Autajay and Salvation M. Mosquera. He has six brothers and a sister, all of them grew-up in Hamtic and Manila. He and Ces got married in 1982 and had their first child in 1983.

Being a seaman was his choice right after he graduated from high school, mainly for the following reason: To be able to enjoy what the world has to offer. The very first world city he saw was New York City, then on to his most exciting trips as a sailor: Practically every European country, Middle Eastern, Caribbean, South and Central American countries, the West and East Coast of the US, African nations, the Southeast Asia and Australia, including New Zealand.

He did not forget to tell me the reason why Filipinos are top priority by maritime companies: “Filipinos are hard working and they have the ability to communicate intelligently. They are full of energy,” he said. Did he ever encounter discriminatory acts? 

Ric said, “No, we were given orientations on how to handle derogatory remarks and try to solve them if there were issues.”

Loneliness and Homesickness

“Having a family away from your sight for a length of time makes your heart grow fonder", Ric said. “I was able to separate my job responsibilities and the longing for my family. We have entertainment facilities for our crew. We have movies on weekends and mount crew parties,” he related.

Being a captain of a big shipping company gave Ric financial stability for himself and his family. He had no qualms in saying that if he would go through life again, he would still choose being a seaman and a captain.

“I loved the adventure and challenges I met,” he proudly said. He said that in the next ten years, shipping companies would still prefer Filipino seamen even with the advent of modern equipment, computerized technology and other countries like China, India, Vietnam and Russia are training seamen also. “I think it will be a big boost to the hiring process of the shipping companies,” he said.

After retirement, what keeps him busy? “I deal with the "ins and outs" of owning a business but the best fringe benefits of being retiree is seeing my family everyday (though deep inside, I still crave for life on the sea),” Ric said. I try to maintain a regular routine schedule that benefits my family and our business as well, and tending to my fish farm. I try to be very considerate and understanding with people I work with. Life is really too short to have enemies at our present age,” he said.

Had he not became a ship captain, Ric wanted to be a criminal lawyer. Today, he just wants to share his knowledge and experience to the younger generation of seafarers. “To be able to tell them how challenging but rewarding this profession is and be able to help their potential to succeed and have a meaningful life,” he said,

Wednesday, March 7, 2018


By Roger Pe
Business Mirror
March 8, 2018

I have never been afraid of southwestern Philippines, much more the Sulu group of islands. I don’t even believe the bad images people keep painting about them. To me, these stories are like ancient tales retold and rewoven by people who have not even been there, not seen the real picture, and heard only from third party sources. They have failed miserably to update their old knowledge and continue to nurture them in the cobwebs of their biased minds.

Last year, around one million people visited Tawi-Tawi and some people still keep asking if it is safe. Well, listen to travelers who recently visited it. Value the experiences of those who have actually been there.

I am annoyed by the tone of journals written by serial rumormongers about Tawi-Tawi, the harbingers of false news, which portray the islands as lair of bandits and its people as pirates. They scare the hell out of innocent travelers based on information that is unreliable, or they may have been there years ago and situations have changed.

The night I was thinking whether to accept an invitation to go to Tawi-Tawi reminded me of my first trip to New York in the late 90s. My advertising agency friends had bled my ears to ‘deaf’ stage by giving me unsolicited advice on how not get mugged in Manhattan (by not staring at people eyeball-to-eyeball in the subway,walk alone in Central Park, and so on and so forth).

To make the story short, all of them turned out not to be true, as with other pieces of advice I got before I went to Berlin, Paris, Madrid and Barcelona in the succeeding years.
I have always been adventurous. I stretch my boundaries at some point. I guess my being an adman made me that way – that the only way to find the truth is be actually in the marketplace to be able to write truthfully.

I am referring to misconceptions about Sulu islands, the hotspot much maligned by bad press. I am not saying that my truth is higher than some people’s views. Am just saying that we can interpret information differently by seeing the positive in people and situations, even if others may have a different outlook in life.

Anyway, I accepted the invitation even if we were only four(two travel bloggers, a cameraman and myself). We were usually about seven to ten, but I presumed the others had backed out or chose not to go. Well, the lesser, the better (and quieter), I thought.

I know what’s probably on their minds. But I would tell them right now that Tawi-Tawi is the safest province within the Basilan-Sulu-Tawi-Tawi archipelago. Pirates do not exist there because there is a naval base stationed in Panglima Sugala. The Philippine Coast Guard regularly patrols its shores, too.

The almost two-hour late afternoon flight to Zamboanga (where we would spend the night) was surprisingly smooth as silk, to use an airline tagline.After a quick check-in at Garden Orchid Hotel, we were brought to Alavar Restaurant for the obligatory “Curacha” dinner.

The chi-chi members of Davao media were already comfortably seated when we got there. Their bandwidth frequency ran high they dominated the dining chitchat airwaves. As in most media fam tours I’ve been to, no one introduced them to us, and us, to them, so we ended up gingerly, cautiously guessing who they were.

We were then told that our wake-up call would be at5 am, which meant we should sleep early and all powerbank batteries must be fully charged to the last bar. Like all my first nights in a new place, I would not be able to sleep, and much to my abomination, I had asthma, aggravated by a room reeking with chest-piercing scent of cigarette smoke.

I woke up at 3am, ready for our much-awaited Tawi-Tawi flight. While counting sheep, I had mentally reviewed Sulu’s geography, which islets and island provinces we will be flying over. The thrill of hovering above them gave me goosebumps. I also loved the fact that we will be within striking distance to Borneo (Sabah) when we get to Sitangkai and Sibutu, islands that have always mystified me.

It was drizzling when we arrived in Zamboanga airport. I was expecting some turbulence across the Sulu Seas when the plane took off but that did not happen. The only thing that disturbed me was when we were already descending to Bongao, Tawi-Tawi’s capital town. As we were approaching Sanga-Sanga airport, the plane abruptly maneuvered up and the pilot announced: “We apologize for the inconvenience but we will attempt to land for the second time because of poor visibility.”Another fifteen minutes of circling the island, we were able to land.
Hello, Tawi-Tawi

My Facebook friend, American documentary and travel photographer Jacob Maentz, in his jaw-dropping creative website, describes the Sulu Sea as “one of the most beautiful seascapes on earth.”  I echo his sentiment.

Despite its reputation, the entire strings of islands look like an untouched tropical paradise with a huge tourism potential. From the air, every single islet is ringed with white sand, what a sight to behold.

As soon as we had set foot in Tawi-Tawi, I had thought that I would be seeing a different country. No, it was just like another Philippine town, except for beautiful mosques, Islamic influences on house structures and the sound of ‘kulintang’ instruments gently thumping our ears with a warm welcome.

From the airport, we rolled through Bongao’s cemented roads and passed through a historicboulevard named Ridjiki (meaning “blessing”). I would later learn that it is a famous landmark facing the big expanse of Sulu and Celebes seas.

We saw children jumping and swimming into its turquoise blue waters. We saw young men and women chatting on the sea wall. Had we came late in the afternoon on that day, we would have seen a gloriously spectacular sunset.

The seaport has served the local populace for hundreds of years, a docking place for motored ferry boats from the municipalities of Sitangkai, Sibutu, Simunul, Sapa-Sapa, Tandubas, Languyan, South Ubian, Mapun, Turtle island and the rest of other far flung islands.
Philippines’ oldest mosque

As we went past Ridjiki, a black mountain standing in solitude beckoned on the horizon. It was a mini version of Australia’s Uluru Ayers Rock towering 342 meters above sea level amidst the flat island of Bongao, but more on that later.

We were now heading to Simunul, an island town where we would see the country’s oldest mosque. Our very enthusiastic tour guide, Tony Said, brought us to a seaport where we would take our speedboat. Before boarding, he obliged to take my photo infront of a famous structure in Bongao, the White Mosque located in Barangay Tubig Tanah. Sitting quietlyon a manicured carpet of grass, it gleams against a backdrop of coconut trees adjacent to the house of Tawi-Tawi’s provincial governor.

It was a quick ride to Simunul. The island has an attention-getting port entrance because of a big replica of a Koran on top of its archway. Crystal-clear blue waters, clean streets, symmetrical houses on stilts, the entire island was picture-perfect.
We walked around the island and we saw Sheik Karim al Makdum Mosque, the oldest mosque in the country. Declared a national cultural treasure, it was visited by the late President Ferdinand Marcos in 1965.

The newly renovated mosque still stands on its original site that was built in 1380. Inside, the four original giant pillars (made from Philippine Iron tree, “Ipil”) are encased in gilded iron railings.

We then moved to Poblacion Tampakan where we saw a monster of a crocodile measuring nineteen feet long and four feet wide on its tummy. Caught by Barangay Sukabulan fishermen, the beast has become an unusual attraction in Simunul.

Philippines’ longest sandbar

It was now time to visit the longest sandbar in the Philippines, Panampangan, a spectacular work of nature that measures three-kilometers from end-to-end forming the shape of a crescent moon. The island is not an ordinary sandbar. It is gifted with soft, silky, powdery white sand that could be ranked as one of the best in the world.
As our speedboat cranked up the heat for us to get there early, we saw amazing local color sights along the way. Picture these:

Bintang Boats: Our tour guide said, “They come and go, and they are culturally Malay but have assimilated with the Badjao culture and daily life.”

Inter-island Ferry Boats: Loaded with passengers with army soldiers. Each time they went past us, they reminded me what our Zamboanga tour guide Errold Bayona said – “When you meet them along the way, raise your hand and wave back.”

Muslim Wedding Boat: You know they are rushing to an island nearby for a wedding ceremony because of one thing –you see a “Malong” (traditional Muslim tube skirt) flying in the wind, like a flag planted near the boat’s prow.

Flocks Of Wild Sea Gulls: They number by the hundreds and they routinely swoop down the water surface to catch flying fishes. Their choreographed movements will make you utter: “What a wonderful world we live in.”


More birds appeared on the horizon. The way they moved were enough to tell us that we are much welcome. Too bad, my smartphone couldn’t capture them on extreme close-ups.As I was positioning to get another shot, our boatman told me: “It happens only in an undisturbed place like this.”

To my consolation, I was able to take a video of the breathtaking sandbar. The hardly visited island is now getting visitors and more are trickling in. Wrong perceptions have unfairly hounded many stunningly beautiful places in Tawi-Tawi for decades, but the truth is, it is safe and heavily guarded by Philippine Navy, Marines and five Badjao families, which live in the island.

Sacred mountain, Bud Bongao

You can call this mountain a masterpiece of nature. Bud (meaning “mountain”) has vertical limestone rocks and verdant moist forest. The mountain has six limestone pillars that form six of its peaks. They have viewing decks named afterBongao, Pajar, Sibutu (the summit), Simunul, Tambisan and Tinondakan.

We climbed a 3,608-step cobblestone trail and reached the highest view deck on Tambisan Peak in less than hour. The magnificent view at the top unraveled the coast of Sabah accentuated by a solitary eagle soaring above the deep blue sea. The summit gave us an almost 360-degree view of the Celebes Sea.

Before ascending, we were told not to bring plastic bottles, but we could bring Bananas to feed schools of Macaques (monkeys) that populate the entire mountain. Barely a quarter of the total height, two of our companions faded into oblivion and went back to the foot of the mountain.
Halfway through, I wanted to stop and just sit on one of the rest huts. My inner self said, “No” even if my chest was tightening and knees were wobbling. My shirt was now all wet as I was sweating profusely. “No turning back now,” I said, in an effort to establish a personal record – book my first real mountain climb.

Along the way, we would occasionally meet a family with a young boy or girl in tow. It was explained to us that it's a Bongao tradition, a sign of respect to bring young ones to a royal Muslim burial site above the mountain. It is also a practice to request for the sick to get cured. A hike is also a sign of penitence,the mountain being a holy ground for Muslims.

By this time, the forest monkeys have started to come down. I immediately saw one throwing his full body weight to branches of trees. Some would walk along the trail and glide through railings. I was able to capture one on video but as I got closer, he began to open his mouth wide open revealing his sharp fangs. Fearing he would jump at me and I would be off-balanced and, horrors, fall off the cliff, I backed off.

Our tireless guide Tony told us there is an Imam (Muslim priest) on the site and one can leave a donation and he will pray for you. Mountain trekkers can also make a wish by hurling pebbles towards the ravine. They say that if the pebbles hit the rock, their wishes would come true.

As it was almost five in the afternoon, we readied ourselves to come down. The race was on, who will reach the foot of the mountain first? I did, though my knees were hurting badly and my leg calves ached like hell. I was advised to cool down by walking around slowly and not just sit on a chair.

The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) spent P56 million in developing Bud Bongao’s trail. The construction of an access road to Bongao Peak was the first eco-tourism park project developed by the regional government. It included construction of a tourist center where visitors can register and receive orientation before climbing, and concreting of about 750 steps and railings for construction of resting sheds.

Bongao Peak is one of the 12 key biodiversity sites in the country protected under the Department of Natural Resources’ New Conservation Areas in the Philippines Project.Around 1,500 tourists visit the peak every week. To increase visitor arrival in the town, Bongao Mayor Jimuel Que said the local government would help sustain and maintain Bud Bongao and will also conduct activities that will further promote tourism in the municipality. Que said, his governance would develop more community-based tourism that will also focus on local culture.

A feast of seafood

We barely had time to freshen up when we arrived at the house of Bongao mayor Jimuel Que for dinner. The boyish-looking Que gave us a sumptuous feast of the freshest seafood we’ve ever tasted - huge crabs, succulent white clamsoup, “Samaral”, broiled squid, and the winner of the night –Mantis Shrimp (“Alupihang Dagat”), winner, because it tasted so good like lobster and oozing with roe from end to end.

It was also a time to interview the mayor who gamely answered courteous and no-holds-barred questions. Que said he is hopeful about the positive buzz Tawi-Tawi is getting today. “We want to start slow, we don’t want to rush things. We want to fix peace and order in the community first,” he said.

Speaking of peace and order, Que said Bongao, is one of the most peaceful towns in Sulu archipelago. “We used to only have one battalion of soldiers, now we have three and the LGUs are cooperating. We want to maintain peace and order here. “Ayaw naming masira ‘yon” (we don’t want to ruin it),” he said.

ARMM Tourism Secretary Ayesha Dilangalen sees the big potential of Tawi-Tawi as a tourist destination. She mentioned that the establishment of tourism council and creation of association of hoteliers and restaurants in the province have helped boost tourism in Tawi-Tawi. Bongao alone has 300 hotel and pension house rooms for tourists. She is hoping that more hoteliers will invest in the province.

But in order for tourism to thrive, electricity, water and communication must flow unceasingly. Que laments that some of Bongao’s basic needs are not addressed. “Many of our islands don’t have rivers to supply the water needs of our people. Electrification is also a problem but he is thankful that the Regional Board of Investments of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (RBOI-ARMM) has approved an eight-megawatt capacity diesel power plant project in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi.

“For a region where residents miserably experience daily rotational brownouts due to power shortage, this is great news,” Que said. The whole of Sulu archipelago, including Tawi-Tawi, is the least penetrated market for power projects.

Que also reiterated that his mayorship would continue implementing an efficient waste disposable management in the town, make its seas and beaches trash-free and encourage people to be more environmentally conscious.

Tawi-Tawi Integrated Seaport and Economic Zone

Meanwhile DOT Secretary Wanda Teo, held an inter-agency dialogue on the Zamboanga-Sandakan Air connectivity and Tawi-Tawi Freeport and Ecozone Project in Zamboanga City on February 26, 2018.

As chairperson of Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area Tourism Cluster, Teo said, only Mindanao and Palawan are not connected by air and sea to the other three countries. She is optimistic that with the upcoming cruise tourism in Buliluyan, Bataraza, Palawan and Kudat, Malaysia, we can now be truly connected with the BIMP-EAGA, she said.

Teo also said that the Philippines would be aggressively promoting Mindanao through DOT’s “Go South Philippines” campaign. “We believe in the vast offerings of the island, including ARMM, specifically, Tawi-Tawi. With its beautiful beaches and its location as a natural gateway, there is vast potential for the island. Thus, the proposal to develop the Tawi-Tawi Integrated Seaport and Economic Zone (TISEZ) will prove to be a worthwhile,” she said.

DOT is tapping the younger generation of travelers to see the countryside with the campaign, zeroing in on the entire Mindanao island for the first quarter of 2018, beginning with Davao and to other Mindanao regions in the following months.

“Go South” will be our new message and tone for Mindanao,” Teo said. DOT is reviving this highly successful marketing campaign to give Mindanao a stronger and unified voice as a “single tourism destination”. Among its lofty objectives is to position Mindanao by spotlighting its world-renowned attractions, like the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Mount Hamiguitan, Mount Apo and Mount Kitanglad.

As part of our efforts to improve the tourism experience of our country’s Asean neighbors, Teo said, DOT has initiated Muslim Friendly Tourism to cater to specific needs of our brethren of the Islamic Faith.

Teo said there is much to see in Mindanao. “As we launch our “Go South” campaign, we will showcase the “Land of Promise” in a new light of fun, adventure and pleasant memories.” With the launch of these routes, we are taking the first step and we firmly believe that we, as a united front, will sustain what we have started,” she said.

Friday, March 2, 2018


By Roger Pe
Business Mirror
February 28, 2018

When the word Antique is mentioned, what do you think comes to people’s minds? Most likely, one of these will show on the list. Evelio Javier, Arturo Pacificador, a province so far away, languishing in obscurity. A place some people never even bother to visit. You’ll probably even hear worse than that. But that’s barely scratching the surface. Dig deeper. Go beyond your outdated impression.

People unfamiliar with the place would often associate the province with the definition of “antique’ meaning “ancient” or “old-fashioned”. But for those who value ancient things, the word would mean precious, valuable, and priceless.

If you are still at a loss, you may want to ask why the ten Bornean datus landed in Antique. Datus Puti, Sumakwel, Dumangsil, Bangkaya, Paliburong and the rest of them must have been so enchanted they stayed awhile and eventually settled, right in the heart of the community, which would eventually become the capital town.

According to local folks, the Malay datus met the Ati chieftain Datu Marikudo and his wife Maniwangtiwan and offered the chieftain a ‘salakot’ (wide-brimmed hat believed to be made of pure gold) which included a golden necklace, earrings, bracelets and trinkets they wore when they fled Borneo.
Among other gifts were pearls and fine clothes as a display of respect and to buy the land from them to live. Datu Marikudo responded to the datus' generosity by giving the Malays the lowlands. The Ati tribes moved to the mountains as they are sacred to them. 
The island of Panay was then divided into three ‘sakups’: Hantik, Aklan and Irong-Irong. Aklan became the present-day Aklan andCapiz, Irong-Irong became Iloilo, and Hantik (also called Hamtik or Hamtic) became Antique. Hantik was named for the large black ants found on the island. Datu Sumakwel founded the town of Malandog, considered to be the first Malay settlement in the country. 
During the Spanish colonial period, the coastal province was vulnerable to attacks by Moro raiders. Under the direction of the Spanish friars, a series of watchtowers, like the 'Old Watchtower' in Libertad and Estaca Hill in Bugasong, were built to guard Antique.
Fast forward, the province of Antique is a paradise province, teeming with fish from the Sulu Sea, bountiful with fruits and vegetables from its rich fertile lands. Here, livestock and poultry grow abundantly. It is endowed by nature with gold, copper, chromite, limestone deposits and gemstones. Recently, an indication of oil deposit has been found in one of its islands. Its waterfalls, rivers, caves, white sandy beaches, caves and other natural attractions are just as spectacular as those in the most hyped of destinations in the Philippines.

But why is it still the most overlooked of all Panay island provinces? 

For one, Antique is isolated from the restbecause of its rugged mountain ranges. The geographical circumstance that also created a language and culture uniquely its own, added to its distance from the mainstream, more pronounced neighbors.

Situated on the western part of the island, the nearest Antique town to bustling Iloilo City is approximately 90 kilometers away. A trip to the capital town would take at least two hours by bus or a rented van. Oftentimes called “the land where mountains meet the sea”, the description continues to pose a challenging reality to its inhabitants.

The province has a total land area of 252, 200 hectares, about 73% of which is upland and 27% lowland. This explains why one has to pass through rugged terrains to reach it. The climate favors the growth of palay, making the province a major rice producer in the region.

Through the years, the province has not figured prominently on the tourism radar. It has always been Boracay, Iloilo, Bacolod and the province of Negros that get top of mind awareness and larger chunk of visitors.
Seemingly, Antique has been relegated to the background, like a younger sibling, a bit coy and scared to be introduced to the public.But the world actually iswaiting, wanting to embrace a gem that is slowly coming out of its cocoon and is emerging.

Ruggedly beautiful

My first time in Antique was in the late 70s. I was a freshman copywriter in advertising, working for a multinational advertising agency. We had to attend a regional raffle draw for a detergent brand promotion.To get to the capital town, we boarded a plane to Bacolod, took a ferry to Iloilo (to coordinate with local radio stations) and then travelled many kilometers to a place I have long forgotten. 

I still remember Antique’s rugged terrains, vast rice fields, ravines, and its signature dish that I still like today, “KBL”. We did not stay in a hotel (there were none) but in a pension house fronting a school where we enjoyed watching a three-man volleyball game.

Antique has come a long way. Today, the capital town is bustling with new businesses, and elsewhere in the province sprout infrastructure projects – resorts, hotels, bridges, cemented arm-to-market roads, renewable energy sources that aim to better the quality of life of Antiquenos.

When an international river kayaking competition was held in Antique in 1997, Antiquenos marched from all points of the province and gathered in Tigbiao town to fully support it. The event was nothing but festive. Joy was written on the faces of everyone. People from all walks of life, young and old, from the government and private sectors, all headed north, up in the mountains where the sparkling waters of Tigbiao River were to delight them.The atmosphere was reminiscent of the days when the province opened their hearts and homes to the ten datus eons of years ago.

Antiquenos are brave warriors like the datus they adopted as sons. They are also people known to always show solidarity for the common good, a trait that dates back long before the Spaniards came to the Philippines. More than that, it is the hospitality that speaks well of them, gracious hosts, giving it all, even way beyond expectations.

The big event that opened with a big bang and ended with the same magnitude in 1997, created bigger excitement ahead, a vehicle to spur more tourism activities in the dreary town. But to the words of FlordCalawag, Director of 2018 Tigbiao River Festival, the next few years were “Kaluluoy” (pitiful). The event was never sustained and almost died without even a whimper in a matter of two years. Aggravated by lack of a planning, tourism was in limbo, a frustrating fact when numerous attractions abound and are just waiting to be discovered, developed and announced to the world.

All of that seems water under the bridge now. Antiquenossad sentiments are beginning to recede from their collective consciousness.Today, one can feel the excitement once again. The province,which used to average only 36,000 visitors annually,registered 1.3 million domestic visitors last year, leap-frogging from the bottom to number two ranking in the entire Western Visayas region.

No less than the energetic Governor RhodoraCadiao confirmed it with pride when she graced the opening of the 2018 Tibiao River Festival, which featured extreme river-tub rafting competition participated in by tourists and trained athletes from all over the Phlippines.

Tibiao River Festival 2018

Dubbed as the eco-adventure capital of Panay Island, the town of Tibiao in Antique is a haven for thrill seekers and nature lovers.Its most popular attraction is Tibiao River, gentle at some point but menacing as it cascades among rocks and boulders. It snakes around the mountains of Antique and considered one of the best whitewater rivers in the country,and a favorite venue for local and international rafters.

Located in Barangay Tuno andjust a 15-minute ride from the highway of Barangay Importante, it rises on the slopes of Mt. Madja-as, the highest point in Panay Island. It then roars down magnificent hills and valleys, with a length of about23 kilometers of navigable water. 

Rafting is a recreational outdoor activity using an inflatable raft to navigate a river or another body of water. This is often done on whitewater or different degrees of rough water, and generally, represents a new and challenging fix for participants. 
Kayaking is an activity using a low-to-the-water canoe in which the paddler sits facing forward, legs in front, using a small boat called a kayak and a double-bladed oar.

Calawag’s Mountain Resort (he operates it together with his brother) offers visitors manyrecreational outdoor activities. For those who prefer Kayaking, here are the courses: Grade 1: Basic kayaking, which introduces first timers to paddling a kayak, Grade 2: For those who want to experience higher levels of skills while navigating rapids and around boulders, Grade3-4: For professionals who want to navigate against strong currents, big boulders and learn difficult maneuvers.

Once a provincial tourism officer, Calawag said, the river activities were designed to revive the festive atmosphere brought by the international river kayaking cup in 1997. Various resorts, like the Blue Wave Traveler’s Inn, Calawag Mountain Resort, Kayak Inn, and La Escapo Lodge, in partnership with the Department of Tourism, Department of Environment Natural Resources, the Provincial Government of Antique, the Local Government Unit of Tibiao, and University of Antique Tario-Lim Memorial Campus joined hands to make the festival generate word-of-mouth awareness and create buzz nationwide.

He said, this year’s festival was aimed attraining people in Barangay Tuno on water safety and rescue operations, as well as extreme river tubing techniques, showcase the culinary, natural, cultural, and historical heritage of Tibiao as well as promote and understand its huge tourism potentials.

The 1st Karay-a Food Cooking Challenge (open to all staff of resorts and restaurants in Tibiao) and Tree-Planting at the river bank of Tibiao were also held while the first TibiaoNational Extreme River Tubing Competition opened with four event categories: Trained tubers, male tourists, female tourists and LGBT tourists.

San Jose Airport improvement

When the upgraded San Jose airport is finished, visitors to Antique won’t have to pass by Iloilo and Caticlan airports to reach the town. Renovation of Evelio Javier Airport is undergoing and resumption of commercial flights between Manila and Antique is expected within two years.

The project involves lengthening of the runaway to accommodate bigger planes, expansion of passenger terminal buildings and installation of runway lights for evening flights. Commercial flights to Antique began in April 2003 bus stopped on June 30, 2006.
The airport temporarily opened when President Rodrigo Duterte opened the annual PalarongPambansa on April 23, 2017. 

Marketable destination

Is Antique marketable? Western Visayas Tourism Regional Director Helen Catalbas said Antique is young when it comes to being a preferred destination. “Antique is for rugged travelers who want to experience extreme adventure like what Tibiao River offers. It has rugged terrains fit for those who seek something different than the usual sun, sea and surf,” she said.

“Because it has successfully hosted the PalarongPambansa, national SCUAA (State Colleges and Universities Athletic Association) meets and other national and international kayaking competitions, we are positioning the province as a sports tourism destination,” she said during an interview.

Catalbas reiterated that in order to market well, people must experience their own backyard well, know its locale well, from the municipal down to barangay level. “It must be marketable to its own residents, so to speak,” she emphasized.

What are the biggest challenges her region is facing today? She mentioned infrastructure as number one, the Boracay sewage problem and planning congestion, as well as one city being referred to as the “most shabulized.”

“We do not really worry about it. If we work hard, things will change and we will keep the industry afloat,inspite of name-calling. The attractions of this region are not the politicians,” she said.

She however stressed not to market destinations that are not ready. “We do not want disappointed visitors. We should do our own product development first and that refers to accessibility and accommodation,” Catalbas said.
Catalbas is optimistic that Western Visayas would reach its tourist arrival target of 6.1 million this year inspite of the challenges the region is facing. She said it is achievable as individual provinces are not stopping their own promotion efforts.

What does she think of Governor Rhodora Cadiao’s tourism program? She said the governor is much aligned with DOT’s implementation and comprehensive planning and the province is starting on the right foot. She describes the governor as “the only rose among the thorns, very unlike some governors who do their own way because of their own interests. As chairperson of Western Visayas Regional Development Council, I could say that she has a better grasp of the picture,” she said.

Side by side with Farm and Faith tourism, Catalbas stressed that these two have significant roles in making tourism in general grow big in Western Visayas. “Agriculture tourism, for instance, does not mean flowers and vegetables alone. It means feeding tourists with our own produce, food grown and harvested locally, not imported from abroad or other regions,” she said.

New wonder of Western Visayas

Antique is not Iloilo. Antique is not Boracay. Nor it is a combination of what western Visayas has to offer. Antique is Antique and it is unique.
As has been written in many articles and blogs, Antique province is quite special because of its natural beauty and diversity, according to, for example. “It is nature lover’s paradise! I’ve already traveled to the province many times, but I keep discovering new reasons to come back,” blogger Mr. Detourista says.

Here are a number of reasons why Antique should be on your bucket list this summer.

Binirayan Festival. A 29-day festival when all towns in the province compete in the capital to commemorate the arrival of the ten Borneandatus. It has a permanent theme: “Retracing Roots, Celebrating Culture and Greatness.”

Mararison Sandbar, Culasi. If you hate crowded beaches, Mararison is the reason for you to come to Antique. Here you can experience a peaceful island life and be amazed by an abundance of pitcher plant gardens in the town, easily accessible, either from Iloilo or Boracay.

Seco Island, Tibiao. One of the Philippines’ most beautiful sandbars, a must-visit spot in Antique. Start your trip at break of dawn. Out in the sea, you might be able to spot dolphins that frequently follow boats headed to this stunningly beautiful beach paradise.There are no sophisticated resorts in this remote sandbar, but you can look forward to an expansive white sand beach and turquoise waters.

Bugtong Bato Falls. A multitiered waterfalls, which flows directly to Tibiao River, it has a natural pool formed by cascading waters, a favorite place for locals who love river rafting adventure and chasing the rapids.

Kawa Hot Bath and Fish Spa, Tibiao. After swimming in Tibiao River’s invigorating waters, take a relaxing hot bath in a giant wok. The water is heated by a fire underneath and is often infused with various herbal aromatics. Although it feels like you are being cooked in a giant ‘kawa’ (cauldron), it is one of the most relaxing and enjoyable activities worth checking out in Antique. They are located right beside the riverbank making the gentle stream lulls you to relaxation. After that, there’s Kayak Inn where you can find basic rooms and huts alongside with these giant baths.

Mamammia Italian and Filipino Restaurant

Unpretentious, this seaside joint is where you can enjoy one of the best pizza and pasta dishes in Antique.
Antique Rice Terraces, San Remigio

Move over Benguet, you have competition. Antique’s rice terraces is a 600-hectare wonder located in remote barangay of General Fullon, San Remigio. Getting there takes at least 3 to 5 hours on foot from the nearest village. According to, the areas surrounding the Antique Rice Terraces only get two hours of electricity each day. Perfect if you are going on a retreat from the digital age.
Bagtason Weavers, Bugasong
High-quality products, vibrant multi-colored shawls and scarves are among the itemshandwoven here. The weavers sell beautiful textiles made in traditional pataydong fashion. 
PatnongonChurch and Convent Ruins

There are a number of Spanish-colonial heritage sites in town that are worth visiting including the old municipal hall. 

Rafflesia, World’s biggest flower, San Remigio
Borneo, Indonesia and Malaysia are not the only places where you can find this extraordinary plant. They also thrive in Antique and Iloilo. The Rafflesia blooming site in Barangay Aningalan is very easy to reach, thanks to recently paved roads. The hike from the road takes less than 5 minutes
Igbaclag Cave And Stone Castle
Located in San Remigio is known as the “summer capital of Antique” because the weather is cool all-year round. This place has a lot of potentials to be Panay’s next big thing in tourism. You can also find gem stores in San Remigio and Sibalom that sell gemstone crafts.
Igpasungaw Falls, Sebaste
The trek to this multi-level curtain falls takes around 30 minutes to 1-hour along an easy trail. Keep an eye out for the rare Amorphophallus, a carnivorous plant known for having the tallest flower bloom in the world.

Naranjo Water Park, Pandan
A new dining and adventure destination if you are on your way to Malumpati Spring.
Bugang River
This is a haven for those who love nature, many-times awarded as the greenest and cleanest river in the Philippines where Naranjo Water Park is located.
With Antique’s amazing rugged beauty and DOT’s all-out support to promote its attractions to the world, the country hopes to achieve its tourist arrival target this year. Let’s join our hands in supporting Antique and the rest of Western Visayas.
How to get to Antique: Accessible from north by Roll-On, Roll-Off (RORO) from Manila via Caticlan. From Kalibo, Aklan buses ply the route to Pandan and San Jose de Buenavista. Buses and vans to and from Iloilo take two main roads: the mountain and the coastal road networks. There are two major seaports in the province, the Lipata seaport in Culasi and San Jose. Tricycles are numerous in all towns of Antique while buses and jeepneys provide service for inter-town travel.