Wake Up, Philippines!

Tawi-Tawi: The Backdoor Gateway

Posted in Tourism, Travel by Erineus on April 16, 2009
March 21, 2009, 2:13pm
Bolobok rock
Bolobok rock

“The vision is to develop Tawi-Tawi into a new cultural and ecotourism mecca of the Philippines and showcase its natural beauties and wonders hidden within its 307 islands and the underlying seas,” said Vice-governor Ruby Sahali-Tan.

The island of Bongao in Tawi-Tawi is the farthest you can go in the southern part of the Philippines. Farther down is Sabah, Malaysia. To reach the southern tip of the archipelago, I took a most exciting sea travel that brought me to the part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao known as the Philippines’ “Last Frontier.”

I have only read about the amazing “last frontier” that is sandwiched between the South China and Sulu seas: it is a sanctuary with extensive rain and mangrove forests, rich culture, majestic mountains, primeval caves, coral reefs, and the world’s rarest marine life, outstanding dive sites and pristine white sand beaches.

On the invitation of Vice-governor Ruby Sahali-Tan, I packed my bag and went on a Tawi-Tawi experience. From Manila, my travel companion and I flew to Zamboanga which is the only take-off point going to Bongao, which is an hour away by plane or about 26 hours by ferry via Jolo.

From Zamboanga, we flew via SeaAir to Bongao. At the Sanga-Sanga Airport, we were greeted by Mark and Serekit, the cheerful and courtly staff of the Provincial Tourism Office. From the airport, we proceeded to the provincial capitol, perched on the hill of the island where ne can see a perfect 360-degree view of the whole Tawi-Tawi bay and the town of Bongao.

“Tawi means far,” Gov. Sahali-Tan informed me. Along with her husband Mayor Nickerson Tan of Mapun, they took us via speedboat to Panglima Sugala, hometown of the Sahalis.

As the soft breeze invigorates us, we were impressed by the unspoiled white sand beaches and colorful marine life. There were  still-house dwellers whose have deep attachments to the sea which is their main source of livelihood.

On the shore, I saw Badjaos men and women, with their children, selling different kinds of seaweeds and the fresh catch of the day.

“Tawi-Tawi is the backdoor gateway of the Philippines to the rest of Southeast Asia, and you are now in the farthest province of the Philippines down South,” Vice-gov Sahali-Tan said. “Ninety percent of the population is composed of Muslims- Badjao, Samal, Tausog and Joma Mapun. My vision for the province is to uplift the quality of life here,” she added.

Nirvana believer

The second day was a “wet” day because it was reserved for exploring the beach and the islands. We first visited Palanjal Kam Balobok Rock, an uninhabited island perfect for sunbathing and private picnic lunches.

By the way, take an island tour when the habagat (southwest winds) is not blowing too strongly. A big bangka (wooden row boat) should take around 30 minutes to reach each islands except for Mapun and other municipalities which take a day to reach.

When you take a dip or do a little sorkeling, you will find amazing coral reefs, especially at the drop-off which bottoms out at 40 meters (120 feet).

We feasted on the beauty of the underwater and the magnificent corals.

As a nature nirvana believer, I communed with Mother Nature at Sand Bar, the resort owned by the vice governor.

When we return to the house of the Sahalis, we were treated to mouth-watering delicacies such as darar, palikambing, junai, panpan, and pasong, definitely our ultimate nirvana. While savoring the treats, the Provincial Tourism Cultural Dance troupe gave an impressive interpretative dance called pangalay.

The music, the food, and the people were a balm to our senses. It was like going back to the essentials of life: beauty, adventure, sustenance, harmony, and romance, the very things that modern life has left behind.


Marco Polo Davao hailed for big role in Mindanao tourism

Posted in DOT, Hotel, Hotels/Restaurants/Bars, Tourism by Erineus on March 6, 2009

First-class international luxury hotel Marco Polo Davao has earned praises for its big role in promoting Davao City and the rest of Mindanao as a national and international tourism destination.

The accolades came during Marco Polo Davao’s celebration of its 10th anniversary recently.

Confirming and reaffirming the hotel’s role as a tourism icon in Southern Philippines, Halifax Davao Hotels Inc. (HDHI) president Carlos Dominguez said Marco Polo Davao would continue striving to give the city and the region a noteworthy reputation as a world-class destination.

With Dominguez at the celebration were HDHI directors and officers.

In a seeming state-of-the-business address, Dominguez said, “Our commitment to excellence certainly puts us at par with current global standards. Our global outlook and local approach allow us to harness homegrown talents to be exceptional performers in the world stage of hospitality. We really envisioned our hotel to be a major player in Davao tourism contributing to the growth of our city as a premier destination in Mindanao.”

“Our celebration tonight is a reminder to continue realizing that vision. We renew our commitment to take Davao closer to new markets as we work with the local government and the Department of Tourism. This is to uphold our image as an emerging regional and international city. Our leadership in the market shall continue to lift Davao as top-of-mind destination in the country,” he added.

Dominguez also paid tribute to the hotel’s loyal patrons and guests, suppliers, city officials and friends from the media for supporting and contributing to Marco Polo Davao’s success over the past 10 years.

Also at the affair were top executives of the hotel’s corporate clients, members of Davao City’s prominent families and Marco Polo Hotels vice president for operations Andre Scholl. Marco Polo Davao general manager Stanley Lau welcomed them in a brief speech.

Subsequently, Scholl presented video messages from Marco Polo Hotels president Steve Kleinschmidt, VP for sales and marketing Simon Pearson, VP for project development Ting Wah and VP for finance Francis Ling, congratulating Marco Polo Davao for its 10 years of exemplary service.

Spicing up the event were world-class performances by husband-and-wife team Isay Alvarez and Robert Seña and dance numbers by the Kaliwat Theater Collective, with TV anchor David Celdran as emcee.


Durano: RP tourism defies global crisis

Posted in DOT, Tourism by Erineus on March 6, 2009

Updated March 06, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine tourism is defying the global crisis as jobs mount in various industry sectors, especially for a wide range of highly skilled professionals and other personnel.

Tourism Secretary Joseph Ace Durano said the industry’s manpower needs could easily run to tens of thousands based on the number of newly completed tourism projects, those to be operational within 2009 to 2010, and those in the pipeline.

Durano said 1,700 rooms are scheduled to open in Manila this year. “And these do not include the 2,000 others that will open in many areas of the archipelago during the year, all part of the P550-billion expansion projects of various investors involving some 7,000 new hotel and resort rooms,” he said.

This development could be gleaned from the growing number of tourism businesses and related enterprises joining the Trabaho sa Turismo (TST) Fair 2009 on March 13-14 at the SM City Cebu, “indicating the sustained viability and competitiveness of our tourism industry even during crisis and the continued rise in the number of jobs required to serve our domestic and foreign tourists,” he added.

Durano said the 4th TST indicates the Department of Tourism’s “successful efforts in finding and developing new and emerging inbound markets, attracting foreign investors in various areas of tourism, encouraging domestic investments in tourism facilities, promoting joint ventures, and sustaining government-funded infrastructure projects that boost tourism, all generating employment and livelihood for our people and serving as economic growth engine in both good and bad times.”

Durano cited the consistent 10.6 percent average increase in foreign visitor arrivals since 2004 when he assumed his post as tourism secretary.

He said the Filipino people, particularly the unemployed and those considering a career shift, could help the tourism industry by joining the TST fair in Cebu, or its Manila leg on May 22-23 at the SMX Convention Center, Mall of Asia Complex, Pasay City, and pre-registering online at http://www.jobsdb.com.ph.

JobsDB.com members can use their existing log-in ID and password to pre-register for the event. Other applicants may create an online resumé or attach a word document file of their resumé.


Island craze

Posted in DOT, Tourism, Travel by Erineus on March 3, 2009

Updated March 01, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines – As a country composed of 7,107 islands, sometimes we don’t really realize that here in the Philippines we are all truly islanders. Tropical weather? Check. Coconut and palm trees? Check. White-sand beaches? Check. But have you been to all of them… in a single day?

The M/S 7107 Island Cruise Ship does just that. It’s island hopping taken to a whole new level. And with the “Fly and Cruise, Pay Later” package, you don’t have to worry about finding your local paradise — right now.

Operating the 5,113-ton vessel is 7107 Islands Shipping Corporation. The ship has 137 fully air-conditioned cabins, with hot and cold showers, TVs and DVD players. It also has a swimming pool where guests are invited to relax and swim while gazing at the islands passing by (yes, islands and not buildings, for a change), enjoying a nice cool cocktail drink by the pool bar while having a deep-tissue massage on the sundeck with only the sound of waves and ocean breeze to rejuvenate you. The ship also has three function rooms named after the islands of Coron, Boracay, and Puerto Galera. Its capacity is good for only 350 people, so you can rent the whole ship for a great time with family, colleagues and friends. Share intimate and unforgettable moments with loved ones against a backdrop of Coron Island, with its majestic limestone cliffs and intricate rock formations; or view the spectacular sunset of Boracay island, watching the island come alive along the shoreline.

The best part of all is that the cruise takes you into the very heart of the Calamianes where a pontoon brings you to the islands of Ditaytayan, Malcapuya, Panlaitan and other island destinations. These lesser-known islands are virtually untouched, and totally beautiful. These are the destinations of tomorrow and only the M/S 7107 Islands Cruise Ship can bring you there in style. Escape into these islands for a romantic dinner, a sunset cocktail, or a snorkeling trip with family. The waters are so clean and pure that it’s easy to see the flourishing coral reefs from the pontoon.

Ditaytayan Island is a 96-hectare island made up mostly of powder-white sand and lush forests, reminiscent of Boracay back in the ‘80s. It has long swirling sand bars on both ends and at the center is a huge sand bar overlooking the sunrise and sunset. It is a secret paradise that soon will be transformed to the next party island with artists’ villages and boutique resorts.

Malcapuya is another haven. With monkeys swinging overhead, and wild ducks and dugong swimming around, it’s a back-to-nature haven, though the cove and nipa huts are where guests prefer to take their siesta.

Panlaitan is another island near the famous Black Island and its shipwreck sites. It is located at the other side of Busuanga. Panlaitan has a long stretch of white sand beach and the coral is so near the shore that snorkeling is not even necessary: you can see the marine life from above the water. Dibotunay is nearby and also a fantastic place for a picnic while sunbathing or swimming.

Aside from the islands mentioned above, guests can island-hop to other nearby islands such as Banana Island, Malaroyroy, Cheron, and so on.

These islands are what inspired British novelist Alex Garland to write The Beach; and the World War II wrecks submerged in the waters along with the abundance of endemic and exotic marine life are the reasons Jacques Cousteau kept returning for his dives. Hailed by National Geographic as having the best beaches in the world and Forbes magazine as one of the best dive sites in the world, it beats the Bahamas by a long run.

The island craze? It’s only just begun.

* * *

For more inquiries and bookings please visit www.7107islandscruise.net or call (+632) 887 7107. E-mail reservations@7107islandscruise.net if you can’t wait to begin the cruise.


Dipolog, the city of surprises

Posted in DOT, Tourism, Travel by Erineus on February 26, 2009

There’s more to this bustling city than its famous bottled sardines

Discovering Dipolog City for the first time is a lot like receiving a bottle of the city’s renowned Spanish-style sardines. There is actually more to this bustling city bounded by verdant rolling hills and the blue Sulu Sea than meets the eye.

“With rich fishing areas off its shores, Dipolog City is famous for the abundance of its marine resources and nowhere is that God-given blessing more readily apparent than in the Central Market,” said Mayor Evelyn T. Uy, who transformed Dipolog into what it is now – a progressive city.

Truly, we saw just right off the center of the city’s main street, the marketplace teems with an endless supply of the day’s catch of shrimps, prawns, crabs, yellow-fin tuna, shellfish, clams, and oysters. Seasoned buyers know that reasonable prices are almost always guaranteed.

The market also teems with the harvest from the land as well, with fruits like marang, durian, rambutan, lanzones, and mangosteen which are abundant in the months of August to October, while other popular pasalubong staples such as mangoes and papaya are available all year round.

With a lifestyle that flows as free as the sea-bound wind that rustles its many trees, Dipolog is the perfect escape from the worries of big city life. Here, one is within walking distance from the market and the city’s famous boulevard which offers a jogging experience unlike any other. The cool, relaxing seaside vistas are crowned by the magnificent sight of the beautiful sunset, yet another everyday treat in this city of surprises.

The onset of night, however, does not find that the wonders of Dipolog have retreated with the afternoon light. On the seaside boulevard itself, street food such as barbecue, balbacua, and fish balls are laid out for sale until the early dawn. It is this social “food court” that acts as a great leveler since one finds people from all walks of life eating side by side in small tables that dot the far end of the esplanade.

Referred to by the locals as “McDo,” after the popular Pinoy slang for the omnpresent American fastfood chain, the Dipolog version of “McDo” instead means “mag duko-duko,” a Cebuano term which describes one who bends low to choose which to order from the dimly lit barbecue grills.

After eating, one might be pleasantly surprised to discover that there is life after five, too, in Dipolog, contrary to what one may expect from its quaint provincial setting. Bars, karaoke joints, some ballroom dancing, and a quiet drink while listening to good music are all in store for would-be night hawks.

The art lover will never be a stranger here, too. The art scene is alive and active in Dipolog at the Goodtimes Café. Set against a rustic setting where artists converge to unwind or to paint or simply to talk art among a gallery of the works of Dipolog’s finest artists, the ambience itself makes it a place to visit even for mere artists-to-be.

If traveling around the city is the cause to build up an appetite yet again, one need not worry. Truly, no one ever really stops eating in Dipolog since, with the temptation to eat present at every street corner and hidden nook, the urge is never difficult to satisfy. From fine-dining to fast food joints, coffee shops and pastry shops, hole-in-the-wall snack counters, carinderias, name it, Dipolog has it, such that to go hungry in this city of a thousand and one treats would be only a self-inflicted punishment.

A special treat for any first-time visitor to this lovely city would be an array of seafood, Dipolog’s own version of the lechon, and luscious fresh fruits laid out in a grand buffet while one enjoys a cruise along the placid waters of the Dipolog River. Passing through verdant foliage of large trees and green fields, the cruise takes the guests to the old town site of Dipolog, where a replica of the old Subanen village now stands.

Dipolog City is fast becoming the new convention destination in this part of Mindanao. In August of this year, the Mindanao Business Conference will be held in Dipolog, attracting 500 delegates and guests including high-profile personalities like ambassadors and business tycoons. In October, the Jaycees will likewise hold their national convention here, and before the year ends, other national organizations and civic groups will have scheduled their own conventions in the city.

However, the rising popularity of Dipolog as the convention and vacation destination of choice shouldn’t be surprising. After all, it is but an hour’s flight away from Manila, and Cebu, the Queen City of the South, is just 30 minutes away by plane. Ships, ferries, and fast crafts ply the Dipolog–Dumaguete–Bohol and Cebu route several times a day. Plus, one can also travel by bus all over Mindanao from Dipolog.

Must see: The twin falls in Sungkilaw, barely an hour away from the city proper, or enjoy a short trek in the forest of Cogon Eco Park, 30 minutes into the suburbs of the city. Beach lovers can just hop into a motorized banca and go island hopping while watching the dolphins along the way. A good way to end a memorable Dipolog visit is to go back to one’s roots through a heritage tour which includes a visit to Dipolog’s Holy Rosary Cathedral and Jose Rizal’s place of exile in historic Dapitan.

Dipolog beckons, so next time you plan an out-of-town trip, consider Dipolog and discover the wonders that await every visitor in this peaceful city of simple and happy people. You will experience a different high when you mix with the locals and allow yourself to just be part of the flow of everyday life.

Manila Bulletin

Nature’s wonders

Posted in DOT, Tourism, Travel by Erineus on February 26, 2009

Explore the majestic coastal waters of Batangas

The province of Batangas is a destination of endless holiday getaway possibilities. Only two hours away from Manila, the pristine coastal waters and lush forests of this Southern Tagalog wonder will make tourists (both local and foreign) experience a ‘natural high’ – away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

The unimpeded view of picturesque earth and water landscapes along the way to Nasugbu is already a form of relaxation. Tourists will feel even more relaxed when they are in the most secluded area where the beach is surrounded by a cluster of different coves and bays with lush terrain, cool breezes, and fine sand, with a handful of water sport activities.

One such spot is the Hamilo Coast situated in the coastal water of the South China Sea that encompasses 13 different green coves in varying sizes and shapes, namely: Pico de Loro, Papaya, Santelmo, Subli, Baybay, Etayo, Balibago, Arkaya, Dorado, Bucanita, Limbones, Neela, and Patungan.

This 5,800-hectare development and recreation area of Hamilo is located within the boundaries of the famous coral triangle area, which is maintained and protected by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

The coral triangle area is the epicenter of marine biodiversity, spanning Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste with an abundance of coral reefs and marine life.

This extraordinary area holds the richest concentration of 75 percent of all species known in the world – more than 3,000 species of fish live in the protected area. Most yachtsmen traveling around the country are awed by the beauty of the place, and they make it one of their stopovers during their travels.

Moreover, Hamilo has a natural habitat to diverse marine life – giant sea clams, blooming corals, and sea turtles – with a little current making the place an ideal location for diving.

Tourists can also explore other coves and bays through a speedboat ride starting from the main recreation area at Pico de Loro Beach and Country Club.

Hamilo Coast was developed by Costa del Hamilo, Inc., a subsidiary of SM Investments Corporation.

Julius P. Vicente

Kasalang Filipino joins San Pablo Coco Festival

Posted in Celebrations, DOT, Tourism, Wedding by Erineus on February 16, 2009

MANILA, Philippines — Laguna’s best wedding suppliers showcased their products and services during the Kasalang San Pablo wedding fair and exhibit, the first leg of Kasalang Filipino 2009, a 12-city wedding fair road show held last Jan. 12 – 14, 2009 at the Pamana Hall in San Pablo City, Laguna.

City Administrator and Coco Festival 2009 over-all chairman Loreto Ambem Amante, Laguna Provincial Planning Coordinator Valentin Guidote, Mutya ng San Pablo 2009 Glennifer Perido, Lakan ng San Pablo 2009 Joseph Brul, celebrity stylist James Cooper, and Kasal.com head Mathel Ong were present during the ribbon cutting ceremony to formally declare the opening of the three-day wedding fair and exhibit.

During the afternoon of the first day, 11 local make-up artists showcased their skills in Ever Bilena’s Gandang Pinay Bridal Make-up competition. Each contestant was given an hour to make up their model brides. Their works were judged by Ever Bilena (EB) marketing manager Onin Mas, EB Brand Manager Mozhgan Amaranto, EB make-up artist Ana Abainza, and James Cooper.

The work of Ferdie Santos on model-bride Diane Joyce Ramirez won the grand prize. Make-up done by M.C. Rasaoa, on model-bride Mica Villamondo, and Eys Vergara, on Alyanna Marie Amad, were awarded as first and second runner-up, respectively. Santos received a trophy, one-year Gold Listing in Kasal.com’s Wedding Resource, P20,000 worth of cosmetics from Ever Bilena, and will be featured in the company’s various ad campaigns.

On the third day, during the Coconut Cookfest, 100 Barangay Nutrition Schools of San Pablo City demonstrated their culinary expertise in using coconut as ingredient in three categories: main course, appetizer, and dessert. Del Remedio District won Best Appetizer and Best in Costume. Ambray District cooked the Best Main Course and Sto. Angle District made the Best Dessert.

The wedding fair was concluded with a fashion show in front of the old City Hall building, showcasing the works of San Pablo’s leading bridal couturiers.

“Through this, (the Coco Festival and Kasalang San Pablo) and with the support of the media, we hope to inform everyone what San Pablo has to offer,” Amante said.

Kasalang San Pablo wedding fair and exhibit is one of the official activities of San Pablo Coco Festival 2009. It started in 1995 as a way of thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest and to showcase the locally made coconut-based handicrafts, decors, and food products like copra, coco lumber, coco coir, doormats, linens, accessories, virgin coconut oil, bottled macapuno, bottled nata de coco (processed ‘cream of coconut’), and buko (coconut) pie.

The theme for this year’s celebration is “Alamat ng maindayog na musika at natatanging kultura ng San Pablo, bayan ng tangi at unang ermitanyo” (The Legend of the Rhythmic Music and Unique Culture of San Pablo: town of the first and only Hermit).

The Coco Festival coincides with the Feast day of the patron saint of the province, Saint Paul, the First Hermit.

Updated February 01, 2009 07:22 AM