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CEBU CITY — Devotees wept after a deadly earthquake on Oct. 15 rocked the birthplace of Catholicism in the Philippines, badly damaging the country’s oldest church and leaving other historic places of worship in ruins. (In photo is the limestone bell tower of the Philippines’ oldest church, Cebu’s Basilica Minore del Santo Niño, in ruins.)
Ten churches, some of which have crucial links to the earliest moments of the Spanish colonial and Catholic conquest in the 1500s, were damaged as the 7.2-magnitude quake struck the central islands of Cebu and Bohol.
“It is like part of the body of our country has been destroyed,” Michael Charleston “Xiao” Chua, a history lecturer at De La Salle University in Manila, told Agence France-Presse.
He said the damage was particularly painful because the Philippines had already lost so many of its cultural treasures to war, typhoons, earthquakes and poverty-driven neglect.
In Cebu, shocked devotees said prayers as they gathered in front of the Basilica Minore de Santo Niño (Basilica of the Child Jesus), the oldest church in the Philippines and home to one of the country’s most important religious icons.
The limestone bell tower of the church, the latest version of which was built in 1735, was destroyed in the quake.
“I wanted to seek sanctuary here but it turns out the church was damaged,” Fraulein Muntag, 32, a mother of two, told AFP as she wept and prayed the rosary at the site.
Muntag was among 100 people who had gathered amid aftershocks around the damaged belfry in the late afternoon, with candles lit in vigil.
Cebu is regarded as the birthplace of Catholicism in the Philippines because it was there that Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, sailing for Spain, arrived in 1521.
He converted a friendly local chief and his wife to Catholicism, making them the first Christian Filipinos. To mark their conversion, he gave them a statue of the infant Jesus.
The statue is kept in the Basilica and the people of Cebu, whose patron saint is the infant Jesus, continue to venerate the icon.
The Spaniards went on to rule the Philippines until the late 1800s, and the country became majority Catholic over that time.
The Philippines has since remained the Church’s most important outpost in Asia, with Catholics making up nearly 80 percent of the country’s 100 million people.
Another two popular churches in Cebu, built in 1860 and 1909, were damaged.
On neighboring Bohol island, seven churches dating back centuries and also holding huge importance for Catholics were in tatters.
The ceiling of the Our Lady of the Assumption church, built in the 1800s and reputed to have a well which gives miraculous water, was caved in.
The facade and bell tower of the Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, which dates back to the 1700s, had crumbled.
It was built from stones of coral, quarried from the sea and reputedly plastered together using the white of a million eggs, according to historical records.
And the 17th-Century San Pedro church, known for its ornately painted ceiling, was entirely caved in, as if a giant fist had punched it from above.
The quake killed at least 93 people, according to authorities. However there were no reports of casualties inside the churches as they were mostly empty when the tremor hit in the morning of a public holiday.
The National Commission on Culture and the Arts issued a statement declaring they would “rescue and later, rehabilitate, damaged heritage structures,” particularly the churches.
“(But) the psychological and emotional damage is very substantial. It seems to be the more difficult thing to repair,” Maris Diokno, a commission member and head of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, told AFP.
Chua also noted that while the structures might be restored, the beautiful frescoes, murals and decorations that once covered many of the church walls and ceilings were gone forever, Chua said.
“What is truly lost are the paintings. The paintings can never be recovered,” he said. (Agence France-Presse)
By Maribel Castillo
Like many Filipino empty nesters residing abroad, my husband and I have come to that point in our lives when travel to parts unknown has become a much-anticipated annual ritual and a well-deserved reward for years of hard work in a foreign land. We pore over travelogues, scour the shelves of the local library’s travel section, and roam the internet for interesting and affordable travel finds. Too often, like many kababayans, we overlook our own backyard in search of that perfect vacation paradise in exotic locales.
This year, we’re glad we didn’t.
We focused our searchlights on a tiny speck of land in the Pacific. Badian Island Resort and Spa is located on an island on the Tañon Strait, a protected seascape off Cebu. It was a gem of a find! Nestled on eight hectares of pristine white sandy beach fringed by swaying coconut trees, the island getaway easily rivals the best in the world, including world-famous waterfront playgrounds in Greece, Italy, Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Thailand and Bali.
We were picked up by a friendly guide at Cebu’s Mactan Airport for a comfortable two-and-a-half-hour drive through the Cebu countryside to the water’s edge. A motorized banca was waiting to ferry us across the crystal waters of Badian Bay and in 15 minutes, we could hear the strains of “Mabuhay” sung with gusto by a band of welcomers. It signalled the start of three days of unequalled pampering at the Badian Island Resort and Spa.
Range of accommodations
The resort has a range of accommodations, from the superbly crafted junior and family suites to the luxurious Thalasso Pool Villas, all tastefully furnished in the fashion of high-end resorts. The decor makes use of native materials such as nipa, capiz, tobacco leaves, shells, etc.
For those vacationers celebrating a special occasion such as a wedding, anniversary, retirement, or birthday, we recommend the ultimate in luxury – the Pool Villa. The Pool Villa has 96 square meters of well-appointed living area and is larger than most North American apartments! Add a sun-drenched deck and a lavish marble tub overlooking sparkling sea, sand, mountain, and blue sky and you have the recipe for a sublime holiday.
Tropical flowers greeted us everywhere! Strewn over the coffee table, on the king-size bed, floating in the tub, the flowers were harvested from the island’s lush vegetation. A luxuriant vine of bougainvilleas was draped over the sundeck, adding a splash of fuschia to the already brilliant tropical scene.
Over the top is what I would call the Pool Villa’s piece de resistance: a private plunge pool overlooking the bay. Our hosts urged us to soak in the pool’s ionized seawater which they say works to rejuvenate both body and soul.
Dining at Badian Island is a gastronomic adventure. Chef Menchu, a native of the Bicol region, works her magic on the bounty of the sea, foodstuff transported from the mainland of Cebu, as well as island-grown organic herbs and vegetables. The result is a blending of native sensibilities with European haute cuisine. Daily, she surprised us with a “Health & Beauty” menu consisting of local delicacies, and an array of delicious and exquisitely presented Japanese, European and American fare. Daily, the chef created original dishes of what could perhaps be described as fusion island cuisine.
The resort also has a well-stocked tropical bar right on the beach, where guests can enjoy an aperitif just before a beach-front or pool-side dinner.
There is no shortage of entertainment on the island. During our visit, our fellow guests – honeymooners, young families, and a big group of adventure bikers from Switzerland – were pleasantly surprised by the after-dinner entertainment. A troupe of young dancers from the island amazed us with traditional Philippine dance routines, featuring the always popular bamboo dance, the Tinikling. A talented pair of Cebuano singers — a balladeer and a jazz singer — regaled guests with all-time favorites. To cap the evening show, the more energetic guests were cajoled to dance to the reggae beat of the limbo rock, and the evening ended on a lively note.
A highlight of our stay was a sampling of Badian’s famous Wellness Program, meticulously designed to renew each guest’s physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Asian beauty secrets blend with traditional beauty recipes as well as modern trends in wellness and health. The Spa’s Health and Beauty Coordinator plans and organizes a daily program together with the guest. For instance, a customized Health & Beauty Program could include: early morning stretching or dancing exercises at the beach; a delightful healthy breakfast from the Health & Beauty menu; swimming and water sports; a picnic lunch at Badian’s Coral Garden; choice of a Badian hilot with pure virgin coconut oil or a deluxe synchronized 4-hand massage; a renewal facial with fresh seaweed mask; and, finally, a relaxing poolside dinner also from the Health & Beauty menu.
Peaceful and private, Badian Island is a far cry from other popular beach resorts all over the Philippines, where rowdy crowds descend upon the beach and packs of noisy tourists dot every square meter of sandy shore. Perhaps drawn by Badian’s promise of quiet and serenity, local and international celebrities have been known to visit the island incognito, enjoying the comfortable seclusion that the resort is known for.
Another major attraction of Badian Island Resort & Spa is easy access to some of the country’s best dive spots. At the guest’s request, the Badian Diving Center can organize a diving expedition to any of the 16 nearby dive spots such as Coral Garden, Garden Eels, Badian Wall, Fisherman’s Cove, Pescador Island, Tongo Point, among others. The dive spots are from five to sixty minutes boat ride from Badian Island. Needless to say, Badian boasts of some of the region’s most experienced dive instructors, dive guides and boat captains.
Service, hospitality and attention to each guest’s every need are what makes Badian Island Resort & Spa stand apart from other run-of-the-mill resorts. The resort’s highly-trained management and staff exude the island’s traditional graciousness and hospitality. The facility employs 175 staff, at least 60 per cent of them locals. The resort’s Chairman, Hartwig Scholz, and its General Manager, Maria Catral, have put in a lot of effort for nearly 30 years not only to design and develop the amazing facilities of the resort, but also to educate islanders on the varied facets of the resort business. Not surprisingly, many islanders are only too grateful to have Badian Island Resort and Spa on their island.
For more information, go to www.badianhotel.com. To inquire about the resort’s special Balikbayan Rate, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Amadís Ma. Guerrero
From a small town derided for being the capital of a feudal province with a big gap between rich and poor, Bacolod has grown through the decades to become a cosmopolitan city with malls, fast-food outlets, and convention centers. Alas, many historical landmarks of the past are gone, but there is still the Bacolod Cathedral and its two bells enshrined in the churchyard.
Bacolod is famous for its cuisine, notably the chicken inasal (barbecue) which makes for a great meal when eaten with rice and washed down with a little beer. Look for the row of eateries called Manukan, loved by domestic and foreign tourists who are not sosyal (uppity).
The leading hotels – like L’Fisher, Bacolod Convention Center and Goldenfield Garden (the latter near a lively district at night) – all have large-scale convention facilities. Standard and budget hotels include Sugarland, Sea Breeze, Pension Plaza, Bacolod Plaza and Cactus Inn. And once a year (late October) Bacolod forgets its troubles and stages its lively Masskara Festival, with its folk art and masked dancers.
Bustling, modern Cebu City is the gateway to the rest of the province, which is the No.1 tourist destination outside of Metro Manila. Leading hotels within the city are Shangri-la Mactan Resort Hotel, Crown Regency, Marco Polo Plaza, and Hilton Cebu Resort & Spa but there are standard and budget tourists hotels and inns too numerous to mention, like YMCA.
For the first-time visitor, the city has many interesting sites redolent of history. The most famous is the shrine of Magellan’s Cross (original parts are encased in the replica) right in downtown Cebu. Here devout old women (manangs) will dance and say a prayer for you, and, of course, ask for a little money. Also not to be missed are the Santo Niño Basilica and the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Taoist Temple, Fort San Pedro, the University of San Carlos Museum and Casa Gorordo, a heritage mansion transformed into a museum.
Cebu’s tribute to the Santo Niño (Holy Child Jesus), the Sinulog. is in January.
Iloilo City has six districts, each with a church. For me the two most impressive are the Molo Church and the Jaro Cathedral. The church has twin red spires and is famous for its array of all-women saints (a touch of religious feminism!). National Hero Jose Rizal visited the church on his way to exile in Dapitan, Mindanao, in 1896. the Jaro Cathedral, built in 1864, is the home of Our Lady of the Candles (Nuestra Señora de Candeleria) whose limestone statue is said to be growing, and no longer fits into its original niche.
The phalanx of saints here, this time, is all-male. And Our Lady is the only “rose.”
While in Iloilo, check out, while they are still around, landmarks like the Kerr & Co. Building in Ortiz St., the Ledesma mansions in front of Museo Iloilo, the Lopez-Vito residence in Jaro, and the Lizares Mansion (now a school), which is spectacularly a – glow with lights come Christmastime.
The city is also known for its cuisine, like the popular batchoy and pancit molo, now served everywhere in the country but best to be tested in Iloilo. These are soup with noodles and lots of meat (with an egg as option), in the case of batchoy, and pork dumplings for the pancit molo.
Ilonggos like to bring their visitors to Tatoy’s Manokan & Seafoods, a seaside restaurant whose specialty is barbecued native chicken stuffed with pandan leaves and roasted over charcoal.
The main Iloilo festival, Dinagyang, is also held in January.
Tagbilaran is the capital city of Bohol, one of the most picturesque provinces in the Philippines. It is now commercialized, with many new buildings, but can still be enjoyed for its own sake for it is beside the sea. Places to stay here include Metro Centre, La Roca, Meridian, G. Gardens, and Sea Breeze. Right next to the city, connected by a bridge, is Panglao Island, where some of the best beach resorts – like Panglao Island Nature Resort – can be found.
Within the city limits is the seaside monument celebrating the Blood Compact between Rajah Sikatuna and the conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. The best time to visit Tagbilaran is during July, when the Sandugo Festival is celebrated with much merrymaking, drums, dancing in the streets, and youthful contingents from all over Bohol and neighboring provinces like Leyte.
Tacloban is the capital city of Leyte and the regional center of Eastern Visayas. It is right beside Palo Beach, famous for being the landing area of US Gen. Douglas McArthur during his return to the Philippines in 1944, during World War II. The Landing Memorial is, in fact, near the McArthur Park Beach Resort.
Another place worth visiting is the Leyte Park Hotel, which has a scenic swimming pool along San Juanico Bay.
Once, in the company of friends, I undertook a taxi ride from Manila all the way to Tacloban, or 860 kms south. It was quite an experience, rewarded at the end by the sight of the mountains in Tacloban, coming from Samar, as we were crossing the San Juanico Bridge. Our mission was to document 38 charcoal drawings highlighting Philippine history by the late, great visual artist Amadeo Manalad, housed at the Santo Niño Shrine & Heritage Museum, another reason for visiting Tacloban.
Although the Philippines brands itself as a destination of more than 7,000 islands, tourism industry investors have until recently focused most of their energy on the tropical island paradise of Boracay.
Discovered by backpackers in the 1980s, the small island in the Western Visayas that boasts long stretches of spectacular white-sandy beaches has become the country’s most developed tourism location, attracting more than 60 percent of the country’s foreign leisure travelers. In 2007 it attracted more than 600,000 visitors, 8 percent more than in 2006.
In contrast to the rest of the country, Boracay, with a capacity of over 2,000 rooms, caters to both luxury and budget segment travelers, and is well served by local airlines.
However, there is now consensus among local tourism insiders that Boracay has reached its saturation point and may lose its paradise appeal if it tries to accommodate larger volumes of visitors.
“Boracay is not like Bali in Indonesia. It is quite a small island that cannot expand to accommodate large numbers of visitors,” a local tour operator told OBG. The focus of tourism authorities is now on diversifying the country’s hospitality product range in order to reach the declared target of 5 million visitors by 2010. Although efforts have been made to promote alternative destinations, Boracay nevertheless continues to dominate the Philippine tourism industry.
Only Cebu has arguably managed to compete with Boracay. Established as the new gateway to the Visayas, the island enjoys a strategic geographical location, offering both an international airport and an array of small virgin islands off its coast The island hosted nearly 1.5 million visitors in 2007, 19 percent more than in 2006. However, it is important to note that most of these were business travelers. Cebu’s product range is much more limited than Boracay’s, as it is focused primarily on the high-end segment epitomized by such lavish international accommodation as Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort & Spa. It has also marketed itself successfully as a new destination for convention, diving and heritage tourism.
The new wave of travelers to the Philippines is most likely to come from mid-range budget travelers, supported by aggressive expansion of low-cost airlines; rising incomes in Asian countries, such as China; and an increase in long-haul travelers from Scandinavia, Germany and, most recently, Russia.
Indeed, the Philippines has been experiencing high growth in travelers from all over the globe. Most significantly, visitors from China rose by 194 percent from 2006 to 2007, as well as by 34 percent for visitors from Europe and 28 percent from the US. Overall growth has remained in the high single digits throughout 2008.
Yet, this falls short of some 600,000 new arrivals the country needs to attract to stay on track for its 2010 arrival target.
The industry as a whole shares the common problem of a lack of transport connectivity and local infrastructure that can cater to new arrivals. In the absence of prerequisite infrastructure guarantees, investors hesitate to put their money in new tourism destinations.
The World Economic Forum Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report released in 2008 ranked the Philippines 86th in the world behind its regional rivals Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, due to low marks for infrastructure and business environment. This is in spite of its ninth ranking in terms of price competitiveness and high potential in human resources for the hospitality sector.
While there is no lack of recognition that the country urgently needs to upgrade its infrastructure, opinion seems to diverge on which tourist areas should be prioritized. Big-ticket spending has so far been limited to expanding the capacity of Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, expected to become the main gateway for the country as a whole. However, this will not necessarily improve access to regional islands, the primary destination for foreign travelers. A majority of regional airports that are key to tourism expansion are still unable to accept larger international aircrafts, thus constraining growth and further investment.
A case in point is Palawan, which in 2007 was rated the best island destination in Southeast Asia by National Geographic Traveler magazine. It has long been considered the hottest new alternative to Boracay, offering pristine tropical nature, unique World War II shipwreck dives and white sandy beaches.
Palawan’s attractiveness as a new tourism investment destination was confirmed by Singapore-based Banyan Tree Holdings, which announced earlier in 2008 that it will invest approximately $70 million in two new resorts in Palawan. A number of local investors who have succeeded in Boracay are also targeting Palawan as the next big destination in the Philippines.
However, Palawan’s most attractive location, Coron—which has some of the best scuba diving in the world and is the site of one of Banyan Tree’s new resorts—is still served only by a handful of small low-cost airlines that fly between Manila and Coron’s Busuanga airport.
Thanks to active investment interest and help from regional authorities, the airport has recently seen its basic infrastructure upgraded in order to accommodate larger aircrafts. Yet international connectivity will remain limited as long as the airport is unable to handle a larger volume of traffic. Seats on smaller aircrafts often sell out, and flight schedules are not necessarily convenient for international visitors coming through Manila.
Even the popular Boracay, which enjoys several daily flights and more convenient flight schedules, is limited to smaller aircraft, constraining its flow of visitors.
As one local tour operator told OBG, “The development of the Philippine tourism industry is currently driven not by demand, but by capacity. If you remove the transport and infrastructure bottlenecks, investors will come and visitors will come.”
In particular, the country needs to further the growth in regional tourism from countries such as China, Japan and South Korea, which accounted for around 50 percent of visitors in 2007.
The onus is therefore on central and regional authorities to upgrade the Philippines’ infrastructure so as to diversify its tourism sector. This is necessary if the country is to break into the fast lane of the growing regional tourism market.
By Oxford Business Group
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