•August 11, 2009 • 1 Comment




•March 6, 2008 • 2 Comments

INTRAMUROS, the old capital of Manila, was built in 1571. It remains a monumental, if ruined, relic of the Spanish period in Philippine history. It is a city within a city, separated from the rest of Manila by its crumbling walls. This ancient capital had well-planned streets, plazas, the Governor’s Palace and churches. However, many buildings were reduced to shambles in World War II.
Among the places to visit in Intramuros are the two churches – The Manila Cathedral and St. Augustine Church — and Fort Santiago.

  • The Manila Cathedral is the fifth stone church of Manila. It was destroyed and rebuilt several times. From the air, it appears as a giant cross.
  • St. Augustine Church is the oldest stone church in the Philippines. It was built in 1599; however, it was also destroyed and rebuilt many times. It is an immense structure of thick walls of Corinthian and Ionic designs.
  • Fort Santiago used to be the seat of the colonial powers of both Spain and the U.S. It was also a dreaded prison under the Spanish regime and the scene of countless military police atrocities during the Japanes occupation. Here, too, Dr. Jose Rizal spent his last hours before his execution on Bagumbayan. (now Rizal Park).

Bataan and Corregidor

•March 6, 2008 • 2 Comments

In 1942, a combined force of Filipino and American troops made their last stand in Bataan and Corregidor against the Japanese. Many monuments of the Second World War still remain in these two places, which were proclaimed National Shrines.
Corregidor, known as the “Rock” is a tiny, island-fortress guarding the entrance to Manila Bay. It gained worldwide fame in the last war for the gallant stand put up by the besieged US-Philippine forces against the Japanese army.
Bataan, lying just opposite Corregidor, may be reached after a 30-minute boat ride from the “Rock”. It was also a famous battlefield in the last war.



•March 6, 2008 • 6 Comments

Cebu City drew 403,326 international visitors in 2005, making the “queen city of the south” the top provincial destination of foreign travelers. Data from the Department of Tourism (DOT) also showed that Cebu City attracted 1,813 overseas Filipinos and 712,938 domestic travelers last year.

Total number of travelers in the city went up by 10.5 percent to 1.118 million in 2005 from 1.012 million in 2004. Arrivals in Cebu are expected to peak in December 2006, when the city hosts the 12th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Leader’s Summit and the 4th ASEAN Business and Investment Summit.

Government officials and business leaders from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam will troop to Cebu to discuss the future of ASEAN integration.

Also expected to participate are delegates from Japan, China, South Korea, India, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and European Union. This early, the 20 hotels in Cebu have been reporting full occupancy rates, with the influx of Japanese and Korean tourists, despite the recent opening of five-star accommodation facilities like Marco Polo Hotel and Hilton.

Other large hotels in Metro Cebu include Marriot, Waterfront, Midtown, Rajah Park, Diplomat, Northwinds, Sarrosa, Parklane, Crown Regency, GV, Mango Park, Richmonde, Golden Prince, Metropak, Crowne Garden, Grand Hotel, Montebello, Century Golden Peak, Holiday Plaza and Century Plaza.

Aside from Cebu, other top destinations of international visitors outside Metro Manila in 2005 were Aklan, the province which covers the world-class resort island of Boracay, with 157,638; Laguna, home of the Pagsanjan Falls, with 149,531; Pampanga, where Clark Field is located, with 76,133; and Palawan, with 70,066.

Occupying the 11th to 20th list of favorite destinations were Ifugao, site of the Banaue Rice Terraces, Negros Occidental, Baguio City, Iloilo, Cavite, Negros Oriental, Cagayan de Oro City, Batangas, Camiguin, and Ormoc City.

Data showed that some 1.414 million international travelers, 125,476 overseas Filipinos, and 13.631 million domestic tourists for a total of 15.171 million visited the country’s tourist attractions outside Metro Manila in 2005. The figure was 15.8 percent higher than the 13.103 million local and foreign tourists who visited the provinces last year.


•March 6, 2008 • 2 Comments

If Aklan has Boracay, Ilocos has Pagudpud, its northernmost town bordering the South China Sea. The coastal town of Pagudpud is the perfect setting for panoramic movies and photoshoot for travel magazines cover.

The town’s main attractions are Saud Beach, known for its fine white sand stretching for hundreds of meters and Maira-Ira Point, which hides a secluded beach called Blue Lagoon. Other breathtaking landscapes in Pagudpud include Bantay Abot-abot, a natural sculpture carved by the wind and sea, the Mabogabog Falls and the Patapat viaduct that treats motorists to a scenic view of green lushes and blue waters of South China Sea.

Pagudpud is just an hour’s drive from Laoag City International Airport. From here, tourists can visit other popular destinations such as the Bangui Wind Farm, the Hispanic village of Vigan, and the old Paoay Church.

Banaue Rice Terraces

•March 6, 2008 • 1 Comment

TRAVERSING the rugged terrains of Cordillera highlands in a span of one week is an adventure in itself and could be an immense learning experience for someone who has the guts to look down into the depths of mountain cliffs to get a good view of the rice terraces.

With tall rice terraces at the backdrop and cool breeze shuttling between mountain peaks, a journey across the Cordillera mountain ranges exposes one to an atmosphere strangely different from the daily offering of Manila and its suburbs. More importantly, it provides a peek into the ancient Philippine civilization before the foreigners came.

A group of journalists and regional information officers of the Department of Agriculture crossed the mountains of Cordillera in the third week of March, thanks to efficient vehicles that tracked what could have been dangerous mountain trails and roads under renovation.

Twice, our vehicles stopped at Hanselma Highway, while bulldozers were clearing the way to flatten the road. We were lucky it didn’t rain.

The tour brought this writer to interesting spots in Cordillera – from the hybrid rice town of Tabuk in Kalinga to the rice terraces of Banaue in Ifugao to the scenic village of Sagada in Mountain Province to the vegetable bowl of La Trinidad in Benguet and all the way to Baguio City.

Mountain viewing for around 30 hours on travel along zigzag highways is both rewarding and exhausting. This would have been unbearable if not for the comfort of four remote hotels where this writer spent six nights, thanks to the people who made sure we had the best accommodation.

An eight-hour night trip from Manila allowed the group to see the beautiful dawn in Tabuk. The modern Dalton Pass at the borders of Nueva Ecija and Nueva Vizcaya significantly reduced our travel time. The national road up to Isabela is actually impressive, except for some bumpy sections that were being renovated.

Mang Alex, our experienced driver, was very cautious while entering the Laya Valley in Tabuk, where tales of midnight highway robberies hogged the headlines in the past. Fortunately, the police have already posted checkpoints in the area.

While driving towards Kalinga, two things would not escape the attention of motorists, checkpoints being the first. The other is the “Gloria sa Kalsada” signpost at the entrance of each barangay. We thought we could stop thinking politics while in Cordillera.

Tabuk is a modern agricultural town, which best exemplifies the use of modern farming equipment and the hybrid rice technology in improving the lot of the farmers. Who would have thought that the Kalingas, who were known in the past as fierce headhunters, would this day lead the country in hybrid rice production? Hybrid rice seeds from Kalinga reach as far as Mindanao.

Farmers interviewed by this writer claimed to have been earning more than P100,000 from each hectare prepared for the production of hybrid rice seeds (F1) in just one cropping season.

The Laya Valley, for one, is a vast expanse of green crops magnificently bordered by rolling hills that extend up to the Cordillera peaks. This is rivaled only by the rice farms in Roxas, another hybrid rice town in Isabela, which is fast emerging as the food hub in Luzon.

From Tabuk, our group proceeded to Banaue the next day. This gave us the chance to witness the agricultural might of Isabela, which covers a total area of 10,664 square kilometers. We stopped over at Santiago City to get some ice cream and soft drinks while observing the economic activities in the area.

The way to Ifugao is via Bagabag in Nueva Vizcaya. From there, the vehicle began its climb towards the capital town of Lagawe. Although navigable, the roads to Banaue would test the skills of even the most able drivers. The unwritten rule there is to slow down or stop to give way to the approaching vehicle on ascent.

It took us almost five hours to reach Banaue from Tabuk. While the way to Banaue Hotel would provide partial views of the rice terraces, our hotel room, which does not require air-conditioning, has a full view of the mountain peaks and the terraces below. The town center can also be seen afar.

The Ifugaos belong to three cultural groups, namely: Tuwali, Kalanguya and Ayangan. Many of them speak English fluently. They are courteous to strangers, yet proud of their identity. However, many of them live in subsistence level, owing to the small size of their rice farms and poor yield. An average Ifugao farmer owns one-fourth of a hectare that produces only 500 kilos of palay (unmilled rice) in every six to eight months of cropping season.

The famous Banaue rice terraces can be best viewed from the viewing deck of Barangay Viewpoint, some 1,200 meters above sea level. The area is also near souvenir shops that sell traditional Ifugao weaved items and woodcarvings.

Another good place for sightseeing is Barangay Hapao in Hundungan town, which provides the widest view of the rice terraces. The spider web formation of the terraces can also be viewed from the same town.

After two days in Banaue, our group embarked on another five-hour journey to Sagada in Mountain Province. When viewed from the mountain peak, the road is like a white thread that measures the length of the mountain ridges. It is hard not to have a stiff neck while marveling at imposing mountain peaks that kiss the clouds and realizing that the road actually leads there.

One way of knowing that we have crossed the border of Mountain Province is the appearance of Pine Trees. American missionaries reportedly encouraged the people to plant Pine Trees in the area nearly a century ago. To this day, traces of American influence remain in the capital town of Bontoc, which is sandwiched by mountain peaks.

On the way to Sagada, our convoy could not help but pause to get a good look at villages nestled in the mountain, with idyllic rice terraces strategically located nearby. With an elevation of 1,500 meters above sea level, Sagada is like Baguio City minus the trappings of commercialization.

One warning for Sagada visitors is that establishments close shop at 9 in the evening. Visitors are also expected to follow rules strictly in the area. Likewise, taking a bath in the early morning is discouraged, especially when nobody who can heat the water is already awake.

But what made our trip to Sagada is a two-hour trek into Sumaging Cave, which showed us the beauty of natural resources underground. The extraordinary stone formation plus the crystal clear water that drips slowly into the deeper parts of the cave awakened the most appreciative senses in us.

The trip from Sagada to Baguio took all of seven hours. During this time, we were entertained by unparalleled mountain sceneries and cloud movements that touched the Hanselma Highway. The rice terraces in the area are taller, extending up to the mountain peaks. Such terraces, however, could not be sustained by irrigation.

We had our lunch at the picnic area of Mount Data Hotel, which is situated some 2,300 meters above sea level at the border of Benguet. Mount Data is the next highest peak to Mount Pulog, which rises around 3,000 meters from the sea level.

The vegetable terraces in Atok, Benguet is also incomparable. The vast expanse of the area provides a clue on how deeply Benguet is dependent on the vegetable industry and how many people in the province lost their livelihood following the influx of cheaper Chinese vegetables.

Benguet vegetables are brought to La Trinidad and Baguio City, the major trading posts in Northern Luzon. From these areas, these vegetables are transported to other parts of Luzon, Metro Manila in particular.

After seeing the higher parts of Cordillera, one succumbs to the trouble of not appreciating Baguio City at all, because it is crowded and noisy. Of course, there is still Camp John Hay, but the area is fast becoming the playing ground for the rich.

As a participant in the Economic Journalists Association of the Philippines annual seminar, I stayed at the posh Manor House for two nights. Yet, my mind was still in Banaue and Sagada where the wind was purer and the song of the night calmer.

The guest speakers in the seminar talked about banking and monetary policies, as if they were the lifeblood of the economy. The farmers, however, think otherwise.

“The real economy is what you see outside Manila. It is what you see in the farms, in the mountains, in the seas. We are hoping that the next president will go here, so he will know our real economy,” one farmer said.

For one, Cordillera offers a glimpse of the Philippine economy rich with opportunities waiting to be tapped.

Palawan beaches are best in Asia

•March 6, 2008 • 7 Comments

The beaches of Palawan topped the list of the best beaches of Asia identified by the prestigious international magazine Condé Nast Traveler in its October 2007 issue.The New York-based magazine, published by Condé Nast Publications, the same company that owns the New Yorker, Vogue, Glamour, and Bon Appetit, listed Palawan beaches ahead of other spectacular Asian destinations such as Beach No. 7 at Havelock Island in India; Nihiwatu Beach on Sumba Island in Indonesia; Baa on North Ari and North Malé Atolls in the Maldives; and Laem Tong Bay on Koh Phi Phi in Thailand.

According to the magazine’s Great Asian Beach Finder article, “Palawan province’s 1,200 miles of sugary beaches wrapped around 1,780 pristine islands have attracted travelers since Chinese traders crossed now-sunken land bridges from Borneo.”

It said Palawan’s rich ecosystem supports two United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s World Heritage Sites, the coral-rich Tubbataha Reef Marine Park and Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park, a limestone karst landscape with an underground tributary that emerges into the sea.



“Almost as unique is Miniloc Island Resort, where a private beach leads to crystalline waters rife with damselfish. Sister property Lagen Island Resort’s 51 newer overwater pavilions are overshadowed only by Amanpulo, Amanresorts’ 40 huts scattered along Pamalican Island ‘s powdery strand,” the magazine said.The same article listed diving on Bacuit Bay in El Nido, Palawan, where Miniloc Island Resort and Lagen Island Resort are located, as among the best beach sports that Asia can offer. It cited Bacuit Bay for its prehistoric limestone rocks, gentle currents, and large concentration of fish.

On the other hand, Amanpulo was listed as the best beach hotel and most romantic Asian property, with glass walls that optimize Sulu Sea views framed by lush foliage thick with black-naped orioles and neon-blue Steere’s pittas. Twenty-nine suites encircle the private resort on the 220-acre Pamalican Island , 225 miles south of Manila .

The list was comprised of over 30 beach locations in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, China, and Japan
Except for Palawan beaches and resorts, no other Philippine destinations made it to the list for such categories as best beaches overall, best beach spas, best beach parties, best beach scenery, best beach hotels, and beach for sports.



It was the second time this year that the New York magazine included Palawan in its top story. In its January 2007 issue, Conde Nast featured Palawan as a Great Value Vacation destination along with top tourist destinations such as Crystal Cove in California and Stewart Island in New Zealand.In that article, Palawan was cited as a “restful retreat where you can unplug from the everyday.”