Sunday, May 25, 2014

Puerto Galera: Malaparaisong Dalampasigan at Mamamayang Disiplinado (Part 2 of 2)

Wazzup Pilipinas!

Puerto Galera suffers from the cycle of the weather. When the rainy season comes, they are like isolated already from civilization since the coast guard will not allow any form of shipping to proceed when there's a typhoon signal. This is why among the priorities of the Mayor is to also put up an airport. The airport is the best solution so tourists will have both sea and air transportation towards Puerto Galera.

According to Municipal Mayor Hubbert Christopher Dolor , if 10 is the steps to success, then maybe they are already on their 4th step in building the airport. There are still a lot of things to do but there are already investors to provide financial support to the airport project which the mayor said will be constructed between the boundaries of Puerto Galera and San Teodoro - which is a hill-type mountainous area so there may be some concerns in the flattening of the area.

The plan to have an airport will be very beneficial to Puerto Galera and its residents who mostly depend on tourism-related work and businesses. It will indeed increase the number of both local and foreign tourists even more. I would very much would prefer to travel by plane which will surely be quicker and more convenient. Traveling by motorized boat from the Batangas port to any of the piers of Puerto Galera was a little exhausting and stressful since the boat ride was constantly bumpy most of the time.

Lalaguna Villas at night
When we got into our accommodation during the first day, it was already night time and almost time for dinner. But Roy Montoya, Lalaguna Villas Resort Manager, along with his chef and other staff, still welcomed us by the pool side of the resort with some sweet treats and drinks. We then all decided to meet-up again after a few minutes at the pool side after we got to unpack our stuff at our respective rooms.

After a few minutes of freshening up and changing our outfits, we met back at the pool area and went on our way to dinner at their C-Grill floating restaurant located nearby somewhere just close to the Sabang beach shores. We still traveled by motorized boat on our way there from Lalaguna Villas.

We also met Chris, one of the owners of Lalaguna Villas and the C-Grill floating restaurant. He went down from his room at Lalaguna Villas to meet us before we all went off to dinner.

Sweet treats from the Lalaguna Villas resort
The C-Grill floating restaurant
Puerto Galera C-Grill floating restaurant bar
Puerto Galera C-Grill floating restaurant bar liquors
Puerto Galera C-Grill floating restaurant signage

Aside from the De Galera Festival, Puerto Galera wants to be known for their feasts of Our Lady of Fatima through the fluvial parade. "If there is some Sinulog festival, if there's Panagbenga, flowers and Sto. Nino, ours is the Our Lady of Fatima. Siguro first ito na mayroong ganoong event sa Pilipinas na yung birhen naman ang pini-feature natin through fluvial parade not on street dancing but sa dagat po ito. So lahat ng bangka, lahat ng pwedeng tumakbo sa dagat pa-parade po kami niyan bukas."

The mayor was also present during the blessings of the boats joining the De Galera Festival fluvial parade. We joined the fluvial parade and embarked on the same boat where the mayor was. The decorations on the boat were not as grand as the street parades of other provinces since there was not much modifications done on the boat itself. It was understandable since Puerto Galera does not have much sources of flowers, and they protect their trees so cutting off leaves just to be use as decorations may not be a good idea.

Banana leaves and fruits decorate this boat
A huge sunflower replica adorns the Our Lady of Fatima image, and there seems to be a mime-like character in the middle of the boat
More votes decorated to join the fluvial parade
A grandmother and her grandchildren on a boat decorated by flowers of assorted colors
Flowers and leaves decorate this boat
This is the boat we joined during the fluvial parade
Mayor Hubbert Dolor joins the blessing of the boats
All boats start to parade the bays of Puerto Galera

We were leading the parade so the rest of the boats were at our back
Sisters at sea. Some of the youth from Manila who came to Puerto Galera to join the fluvial parade
The mayor took office way back 2007 and is in his third term already. According to him, accessible sources of statistics revealed that there is a gradual increase in tourist arrivals except during the year 2009 when there was a sea accident along with the global financial crisis where everyone was affected as well. When the economy of America went down, Europe went down, along with us here in the Philippines which includes Puerto Galera. 

After that, 2010 up to this year, they have slowly catch up with their targets, and if God-willing, they are always targeting from a 20 to 30 percent yearly increase. They do not have the right tool to get their statistics because they are just basing and relying on their EOF collections. They ask tourists to pay P 50 as their environmental share. If they will base the number of tourist arrivals from there, last year they were close to 140k to 150k. This year they are targeting to 180k to 200k.

The statistics does not include those tourists coming from Calapan and also people from Oriental and Occidental Mindoro are exempted from paying the environmental fund. Some Mindoro people who have personal guests would also bring them in as residents to avoid paying the fee. Do not also forget the 20 to 30 percent points of error.

Statistics shows that more foreigners come between the months of November and March. But if you start getting the statistics from February to May, which is time for the locals, Filipinos really outnumber the foreigners visitors. "But basically, in terms of numbers, medyo marami-rami pa rin yung locals kasi when locals come they come in groups, company...di kagaya ng foreigners they just come by twos or by threes...ganyan lang sila. Pero pag ang Pilipino ang pumunta, pag hindi isang buong pamilya yan, isnag bupng mag-anak, isang buong clan.Kasi may dumating na kapatid galing abroad, balikbayan, O sige outing tayo..Ganon sila. But basically di naman nagkakalayo."

Passengers sing praises and say prayers during the parade
Everything that could run in the waters joined the fluvial parade. From motorized boats to speed boats, jet skis to sail boats and more
We even passed b a cruise ship which was probably owned by the foreigners looking at us through their binoculars

Puerto Galera is getting into more activities like the Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival which has become famous not only locally but around the world, which is one way of helping to reach the target for 2020. I was an online media partner of this year's Malasimbo event because I truly believe it was specially contributing to the tourism efforts not only of Puerto Galera but of the entire Philippines. 

The local government of Puerto Galera is also active on hosting events like the NCAA Beach Volleyball composed of college students competing against each other. "When there are players, there are coaches, when there are coaches, there are some friends who come along, ..together along with the parents. With the games, may media...alam nyo naman its always a plus plus plus thing. And then eto nga this De Galera Festival, which is always held every year where we put up some new things, some new tactics, so there's always something new to be seen. So ito yung mga innovations that we're trying to improve and hopefully in the next two or three years when we're done with our airport, then hopefully by 2020, we will be able to get our target of 2 million tourists arrivals....and that's God-willing." 

Puerto Galera will also be hosting the 11th World Congress of the Most Beautiful Bays of the World on 2015. There are 34 member nations of this prestigious club. It's bigger than the APEC and ASEAN Summits where they have less member nations. Every member country is allowed to send in a maximum of 7 delegates so it's not really a big delegate since they can only expect around 250 maximum number of participants of which Puerto Galera can easily provide accommodations. Puerto Galera has both Filipino-style accommodations and luxurious European-standard hotels and resorts catering to both budget and upmarket tourists.

The Excavation Museum of Puerto Galera

We had time to visit the Excavation Museum of Puerto Galera. The museum is a repository of priceless antiques and historical artifacts or relics that make up some of the archaeological treasures of the island. The museum is so small but it already proudly showcases the glorious heritage.

The museum is just opposite the Immaculate Concepcion Church of Puerto Galera located just walking distance from the Muelle pier.

Most jars found at the museum were used for burial ceremonies
Skull and bones found among the relics indicates these items were buried along with the dead
The items, mostly excavated from graveyards and underwater wreck sites in Mindoro, dates as far back as 200 B.C., and includes earthen jars, burial vessels and porcelain wares traded from Thailand, Vietnam, China, and Mindoro itself. Many of the items there were mainly used in burial ceremonies.

You can also see photographs of archaeological sites and other artifacts also found in the island.
Off to more adventure at Puerto Galera
There are many places to go to in Puerto Galera that are easily accessible by motorized boat. Our short stay at the island allowed us to visit only some places like the Long Beach as a starting point of our underwater cave exploration, snorkeling at the Coral and Giant Clam gardens, and at the Sandbar.

Unfortunately, I do not have any waterproof camera so I was not able to take some photos. It is a shame since the best sightings were the ones underwater. Truly, the waters of Puerto Galera hides a lot of treasures below that could only be appreciated if you dive or snorkel under its waters.
Travelers ready for lots of adventure
The Sandbar of Puerto Galera
At Long Beach of Puerto Galera

I'm the king of ...Puerto Galera!!!
Underwater cave at Munting Buhangin of Puerto Galera. Photo by Michael Jeffrey Flores

I would really have to invest on waterproof cameras, and one that I can bring along even under not so great depths in order to successfully capture the wondrous imagery beneath the waters of Puerto Galera. I am missing a lot of photo opportunities to capture and immortalize the fascinating wonders of nature.

The underwater cave at Munting Buhangin would have been a great photo ops, as well as the snorkeling sites under the waters of Coral Garden and Giant Clam Garden.

The Tamaraw or Dwarf Buffalo (Bubalus Mindorensis) photo by Gregg Yan

What we wanted to see at Mindoro, and was also discussed during our courtesy call,  was the famous but elusive "tamaraw" known to exist only at Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro.

The tamaraw, a dwarf buffalo found only on the island of Mindoro in the Philippines, is becoming an endangered specie. Mindoro is popular known for the tamaraw and they even named a waterfall after it but there seems to be only 1 in every 10k individuals who has personally seen a tamaraw. Unfortunately these tamaraws only exist in Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro.

It is unsure if you can still see a tamaraw in Oriental Mindoro. The mayor himself, who's 42 right now, has never seen a tamaraw yet. "I have seen one but it's made of concrete. It's there at our Tamaraw falls." says the Mayor. "Personally, I wasn't given the luxury of time to see one tamaraw na buhay po talaga"

According to the Mayor, there was an expedition in Sablayan composed of environmentalists and pro-animals that really wanted to have an actual count of the tamaraws.

If you ask an ordinary resident of Mindoro, it is sad to know that he has not seen any tamaraws yet, thus one of the Mayor's program as League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP) President of the province is to have tourism circuits among the municipalities to give the public easier access to sites like the tamaraw areas.

The way to Sablayan is kind of hard for ordinary tourists to take on their own. The location is far and there is no connection from the inner part so you either go Bulalakaw, San Jose then go up straight all the way to Sablayan, or go Puerto Galera via bangka to Abra then go straight to Sablayan.

Puerto Galera will soon be opening their boundary to Abra by making a link via road connection and then there's one plan to open in the middle from Victoria to Sta. Cruz or either Mamburao. "Bubutasin po yung gitna so passing through Mount Halcon." says the Mayor. If this plan pushes through the there is a possibility to have a sanctuary of tamaraws.

What we know is that there is already a tamaraw sancuary at Sablayan called the Iglit-Baco National Park, a protected area of the Philippines and declared an ASEAN Heritage Park, that has become the abode for the endemic yet critically endangered tamaraw.

We came to Puerto Galera along with some little children whom we learned later were orphans wearing shirts that says "Jesus is my Hero, I am his Sidekick" written in Tagalog
Puerto Galera had previous unsavory issues of pedophilia during the 80s and 90s, but those incidents are all gone especially when the new Mayor took over leadership. "The news with regards to pedophiles, its been quite a long time that we have not had a case of pedophiles. Noon pa po yun mga 80s hanggang late 90s yang mga cases na yan. Latesly since I've been mayor 2007 medyo matagal-tagal na rin po, last term mayor na po ako, I have not had any single case of pedophile from 2007 up to present. Yung mga nakaraan, yes, there were some cases of pedophiles."

On our way to Luca Cucina Italiana located at talipanan Beach
We had a pizza and pasta dinner at a popular Italian restaurant restaurant here located at Talipanan Beach of Puerto Galera. Its name was Luca Cucina Italiana, an Italian restaurant Pizzeria.

I was actually waiting for a native delicacy to be served to us, or expecting to be taken to a place that sells traditional dishes or treats only available in Puerto Galera
However, later I realized there was none.

This means the only best and reasonable dining experience will be to visit the most popular restaurants as recommended by the local government unit, or maybe ask around from the residents to find out who among the many restaurants are making waves in Puerto Galera.

Luca Cucina Italiana Restaurant of Talipanan Beach, Puerto Galera
Unfortunately, up to this time, Puerto Galera has not yet discovered what is the distinct food for them. They are having problems with the supply. They don't have a good plantation and they import everything thus they have difficulty to come up with a year-round supply of delicacy that could be available even in their backyards. Although they've tried so many contests already, trying to identify what could really be called their own delicacy, but still they would come out with no originality. The product that they were able to produce is just a duplication with just a few minor changes and modifications. Overall, it's still the same product.

Th pizza from Luca Cucina Italiana was drowning in a sea of onions
The pasta from Luca Cucina Italiana
Grilled eggplants and tomatoes as appetizers
Breads from Luca Cucina Italiana

Even when they tried to discover their own One Town, One Product (OTOP), what they discovered is medical tourism also. OTOP is a promotional program of the government of the Philippines which aims to highlight goods and products of Filipino towns to promote entrepreneurship and create jobs.

The mayor also told us that his mom, who happens to be the barangay chairman of one of the barangays in the island, is actually trying to come up with a local delicacy for their barangay with
the help of her constituents.

Establishments and other structures cannot be higher than the highest coconut tree

With regards to the protection of the environment, the mayor is very strict with all kinds of illegal logging. Any form of "kaingin" and "ulingan" by even the minorities are prohibited. "Bawal pong magputol ng kahit anong punongkahoy po dito. Kahit ipil-ipil lang yang puputukin mo, kahit mangga lang yan, you have to really get permits from us and we'll do some investigations. If that is really a planted tree, otherwise you cannot. There's a corresponding penalty for that."

"Yung pagla-logging because they always reason out that these came from the twigs of the fallen trees but actually its not tinibag, tinaga, pinutol nila yun at sasabihin ay nakalaglag ito eh. So we're very strict on that."

"Then, of course, there's a plastic ban dito, bawal po dito ang plastic sa bayan ng Puerto Galera so we're very strict on that even on the resorts and the public market although we are not yet 100% compliance dun sa ordinance natin but I can see some great change already. If we'd rate it maybe nasa 80 to 85% na po kami. We started in 2011 and being plastic free namin ay napakalaking tulong po. Kasi nakaka-experience din kami from time to time ng mga flooding. Yung ano ng mga flash floods kasi nga po sa baba walang ulan pero sa mountains pala ang lakas ng ulan. Pagbaba niyan dito dala-dala lahat ng plastics na nasa estero doon at sa dagat lahat ang bagsak niyan but lately halos wala na po even if you go diving."

You can see that the shores and waters of Puerto Galera are clean even with the influx of visitors during summer

"We also have regular coastal clean-up every 26th of the month. So we do that regular coastal clean-up with the private sector. So yun po yung regular activities in partnership with the LGU, the barangay and the private sector also. 

"But sometimes in varies depending on the availability of the barangay. If they are free on this day, they do it on this day. If they are free during that day, they do it that day. But as a general policy, it's every 26th day of the month that is supposed to be a coastal clean-up for everybody."

"Even in smoking, we started to ban smoking in the public places. There's only some areas that you can be allowed to smoke because we also want to contribute to climate change because that is one contributory to the climate change."

The waters of Puerto Galera is rich with marine life. If only I had an underwater camera...tsk tsk tsk

Most of their waters are marine protected areas so you are only allowed to do hook and live fishing. This is why when the mayor first introduced this, there were a lot of residents who were angry at him because it deprived them of their livelihood. 

The residents should realize that Puerto Galera is known for their good dive sites and their marine life rich waters, "So pag sinira natin yung mga coral reefs (for example), lalo silang walang trabaho" (if you destroy the coral reefs, the more they will not have a job). From the boat men, to the tour guides, to the resort owners,'s a chain reaction. So we preserve our destinations. We are very strict. We have the Magbabantay Dagat who's always out there at the sea to monitor. Every barangay has their own Bantay Dagat also. So talagang ano po, we are so strict aside from the national laws, mayroon pong mga pagbabawal sa dagat natin."

The mayor wants to leave a legacy of MD: "Malaparaisong Dalampasigan" at "Mamamayang Disiplinado" sa pamumuno ni Mayor Dolor. "Because "Malaparaisong Dalampasigan" is Puerto Galera - billed as one of the most beautiful places in the world, and of course you cannot only have one good beautiful place, you also (need) to have people who are disciplined. Di ho ba? Simple lang naman po. Even you, without discipline in you then where would we be?" 

"Malaparaisong Dalampasigan" refers to the town, "Mamamayang Disiplinado" refers to the people. The mayor chose to choose MD becasue he is a Doctor of Medicine (MD) but at the same time Mayor Dolor po. "If you want more MD eh di "May Dating", if you want more MD then "Mag-aaral Dangal" ng bayan...that is for our scholarship program. If you want something more on MD sa blood-letting po natin ay "Maghandog ng Dugo" buhay mo, buhay ko."

The mayor is very creative with creating acronyms to send his messages and objectives across. Let's just hope his constituents observe and follow his policies and ordinances since doing so will benefit all of them. 

Members of the media with Mayor Hubbert Christopher Dolor of Puerto Galera

I guess with the current state of Puerto Galera, there is no doubt that tourism really is the main industry that they should focus on. They are widely known for the many water activities that have attracted many tourists to come visit their island especially during the summer season. Aside from the local government, the effort now also goes to the business owners to provide better accommodations and services to make the tourists stay more comfortable and relaxing. 

Everyone should go out of their way, and beyond, to make it more enjoyable for the tourists so that they may return with more companions, or recommend Puerto Galera to their relatives and friends back home. Everyone should make sure there are more than enough reasons why "It's More Fun to Come Back to Puerto Galera!"

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