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My tale of the two cities

Don’t worry, we’re not going to have an English Literature session today because I don’t plan to do a review on Charles Dickens’ historical novel about London and Paris during the French Revolution.

Instead, I’m going to share with you what I learned about two prosperous cities closer to home, at the sixth installment of the virtual Kapihan Sa New York the other day.   

Hosted, once again, by the Phil-Am Press Club of New York with the theme, “Fiesta Filipinas”, the session featured two young, good-looking, dynamic, and hardworking local government leaders who bannered interesting and attractive tourist attractions in their respective cities. 

Former De La Salle University basketball varsity standout Francis Zamora is the Mayor of San Juan and refers to his city as The Heart of Metro Manila because of its geographical location which is right smack in the center of the metropolis. 

San Juan City Mayor Francis Zamora cites the discipline and stamina he acquired as a former basketball player helps him run the city efficiently.
He animatedly talked about the biggest pre-pandemic tourist draw in his city, the Wattah Wattah Festival (a phonetic reference to water) which takes place every June 24, the Feast of St. John the Baptist. The fun celebration calls for city officials to go around in firetrucks to spray water on everyone along the way and the receiving jubilant crowd in turn wildly douses water back at these officials and on each other. It’s not surprising that water is the main element in this enjoyable celebration because it commemorates the baptism of Jesus Christ by St. John.   

Last year, however, the city officials did it differently as the whole country was restrained by quarantine restrictions, and crowds were a no-no. They, instead, had the “Basbasan Sa San Juan”, during which the image of St. John was brought around the city while a priest blessed everyone along the way.  With the contamination index currently still at its peak, it looks like last year’s sedate and quieter celebration will make a repeat this year.

Mayor Zamora also talked about the interesting Historical Bike Tour which was actually launched right before the pandemic sneaked in – the reason why its popularity could not gain momentum as people were required to stay indoors. The tour starts at the City Hall and covers a number of exciting attractions.

The Pinaglabanan Shrine, with a monument handcrafted by renowned sculptor Eduardo Castrillo, marks the location of the first battle of the Katipuneros against the Spaniards. The Katipunan Museum houses many historical artifacts and possessions of revolutionary leader Andres Bonifacio. The Marcos Mansion was the first residence of former President Ferdinand Marcos and family, where they spent 10 years before moving to Malacañang Palace.  

The Iglesia Ni Kristo premises has the former residence of the late Felix Manalo, the original leader of this religious congregation, and a beautiful art deco chapel. The Club Filipino, where President Cory Aquino was sworn into office after the EDSA Revolution, is the penultimate stop in the tour which ends at the Greenhills Shopping Center. It was in this massive shopping complex where TV luminary and author Martha Stewart couldn’t contain her excitement over the pearls and jewelry she bought during her visit.

On June 10, the El Deposito Underground Tunnel will be inaugurated and added to the tour. This 150-meter underground passageway marks the location of the large water reservoir which played an important role in Manila’s history, from the Spanish era to the Japanese occupation. Hopefully, by that date, quarantine restrictions would have been eased so we can sample San Juan’s revitalized Historical Biking Tour.

Next on focus was my good friend, movie/TV actor and sportsman Richard Gomez, the Mayor of Ormoc City, who I am very grateful to for the endless things he has been doing to put my mother’s home city on the tourist map.  

Before his tenure, Ormoc was a sleepy town and was the drug capital of Eastern Visayas. But with the wave of Mayor Gomez’s magic wand, it is now a bustling city, the economic, cultural, and transportation hub of Western Leyte. It has also become the Concert Capital of Region 8. The Philippine National Police has declared it the first drug-free city in the country and one of the three safest cities, the others being Cotabato and Puerto Princesa.

My good friend Mayor Richard Gomez of Ormoc is the best example of a seamless transition from being a showbiz box office draw to a consummate and effective government leader.
Thanks to its well-managed seaport terminal and the new Airport Passenger Terminal, Ormoc easily became a favorite of MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions, exhibitions) event organizers. Its biggest pre-pandemic mass event had thousands of athletes participating in the Eastern Visayas Regional Athletic Association (EVRAA), putting the city high up on the list of preferred destinations for sports tourism. This was followed by the National Teachers Day celebration which, again, brought thousands of educators to the city.

Added to these well-attended events are the very popular pre-pandemic citywide celebrations which attracted thousands of tourists from neighboring towns and cities in the rest of the Visayas. The extravagant display of attractive colors in the Parade of Lights, hosted by the Rotary Club, takes place every June. But the bigger event is the Pinya Festival, a colorful and lively street dancing festival that pays homage to the city’s patron saints (Peter and Paul) and to its main produce, the Queen Pineapple, deemed one of the sweetest in the world and the symbol of Ormoc.

There are many other attractions the city offers – the Dominador Tan Mansion, a 1930s relic of what used to be the Japanese military headquarters; Ormoc Bay Shipwrecks which divers will find very interesting as they show what’s left of five Japanese and three American battleships nestled several hundred feet below sea level. There is also the Tongonan Geothermal Plant, the most modern in the country. Of course, those who want a leisurely and relaxing tour will enjoy the Lake Danao Natural Park, the Alto Park, and the Veterans Park.

After a very informative session with these two energetic and industrious mayors who, in my opinion, represent the new breed of government leaders, I could only wish that the rest would exhibit the same dynamism and dedication as these two. Then, maybe next time, this column would probably banner a tale of a HUNDRED cities.

YOUR WEEKEND CHUCKLE:

I finally decided to sell my vacuum cleaner. It was just gathering dust.

For feedback, I’m at [email protected]

Topics: San Juan City , Ormoc City , Richard Gomez , Francis Zamora , Fiesta Filipinas
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