It was just a word among the so many that President Rodrigo Duterte mentioned in his SONA but the word “tourism” as a thrust of his government is among the vital ones for his plan for creating jobs for the poor. He, however, doubled up the word with plans for a massive infrastructure program that will crisscross the country. With limited infrastructure, tourism will just be another project that will be like a dance and song presentation.
Interestingly he mentioned the bullet trains especially from Manila to the north and another from Manila to the Bicol Region which means resuscitating the dying Bicol Express that served eastern Luzon for generations. He even included the revival of Panay Railways that the Americans opened during the first decade of their rule. There was such a plan for Negros, but the sugar industry, ironically botched it when it opened its own railway system for the transport of canes from the fields to the mills in 1918.
There will also be a railway system in Mindanao.
He will link the islands. Although he did not mention it,this probably means increasing the number of ports and wharves and more roll-on roll-off facilities. Indeed, one reason the two Negros Island provinces have opted for one region is the difficulty, time and schedule wise, of transacting official business with the regional offices. The Occidental side had to cross Guimaras Strait and dependent on the sea crafts that are also reliant on weather conditions. The same is true with those from the Oriental side under the regional offices in Cebu. Now we can travel at any time of day or night to get to the regional offices.
Tourism-wise, the two Negros provinces share a common heritage. The Spanish-era developments were spurred by the same religious order – the Augustinian Recollects and the same agricultural industry. Sugar, though produced in larger quantity in the occidental than in the oriental side, nevertheless, helped the economy of the latter province that no other agricultural crop has done.
We have common tourism destinations that have not been tapped. A few months ago, a guest from the United States took me aside to talk about the island’s “war sites map”. While this is not new to me, nevertheless, I was intrigued by her interest. She had read the brief of my book, “Against the Rising Sun” which detailed in two volumes the war in Negros against the Japanese from 1940 to 1945.
She asked whether the sites where fighting took place are included in the tourism map of Negros and I replied that only one is mentioned, the Patag battle ground in Mt. Silay that the Silay tourism office promoted sometime back. I have not heard of moves lately to push this through more forcefully. I am not aware that Talisay City where the main battle was actually fought has included its battle site in its tourism map.
She asked me how many historic battle sites are there and offhand I said over a dozen. This is only for the World War battles, but the anti-American war in Negros has several more. They were as bloody and, in fact more dramatic than those in Patag. The Mt. Silay battles were mainly an American show. Those of the anti-American fighting were purely native and lasted more than the US-Japanese war.
It is a pity, she said, that there is no map of these sites that Negrosanons, Filipinos and foreigners can visit because more than the handicrafts and hotels and resorts, these battle sites speak loudly about us.
Aside from these battle sites, there are many more attractions. Sometime back, I talked with several tourism officers and I asked: why would a person come to Negros and spend thousands of his money to see a church or a resort?
We can improve on this question but the answer will depend on the kind of tourism officers we have. The promotion of tourism as a money-making machine requires imagination, turning what we have into something unique that will make a tourist speak well of us and the uniqueness of what we have.
Recently three local officials talked to me about tourism. The first thing they said was they needed a good tourism officer who will think out of the box and develop a tourism program that will enrich the interests of tourists.
Indeed we need things to offer that are uniquely our own. What is our own is rooted in our heritage.*
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