Faith, farm­ing, and eco-tourism

Business World - - weekender -

AT first glance, Leyte’s Bay­bay City does not seem to be a sight-see­ing des­ti­na­tion. But a closer look re­veals that it is emerg­ing as Eastern Visayas’ hub for faith, farm, and eco-tourism — with a bit of a push by the Depart­ment of Tourism (DoT).

De­clared a com­po­nent city of Leyte in June 2007, Bay­bay has been qui­etly at­tract­ing vis­i­tors be­cause of the unique con­ver­gence of these three tourism sec­tors.

FAITH TOURISM

Bay­bay is the home to the Dioce­san Shrine of San An­to­nio de Padua, which draws hordes of pil­grims to ven­er­ate the cen­tury-old image of the saint which is be­lieved to be mirac­u­lous. Lo­cated in the coastal barangay of Pom­po­nan, the shrine draws Catholics from around the coun­try who ven­er­ate the saint ev­ery 13th day of the month, although the de­vo­tion ac­tu­ally starts the day be­fore. A tra­di­tional re­li­gious dance called sirong is per­formed dur­ing the saint’s feast day on June 13, two days be­fore Bay­bay’s city­hood an­niver­sary. The church, which re­ceives over 300,000 devo­tees a year, con­stantly ranks as the top cul­tural at­trac­tion in Re­gion 8. This num­ber is part of the more than 647,045 day vis­i­tors who swing by an­nu­ally in Bay­bay, the high­est in the re­gion based on data from DoT-8. An­other re­li­gious spot in the city is the Our Lady of the Im­mac­u­late Con­cep­tion church, a clas­sic ex­am­ple of a baroque struc­ture whose con­struc­tion was started in 1852 by Span­ish friar Vi­cente Cron­ado and con­tin­ued by Mae­stro Pro­ceso. Gut­ted by fire in 1866 — although the Holy Cross Chapel sur­vived — the re­build­ing of the church was com­pleted in 1870. Sculp­tor and pain­ter Cap­i­tan Ma­teo Espinoso ap­plied the fin­ish­ing touches to the house of wor­ship. The church is in the heart of the city’s “her­itage lane” — an area full of well-pre­served Span­ish and Amer­i­canera an­ces­tral houses, sev­eral of which serve as liv­ing mu­se­ums. The par­ish cel­e­brates its pa­tron’s feast day on Dec. 27 and the city gov­ern­ment started the Bi­nay­bayon Fes­ti­val on that day to show­case the city’s rich cul­tural her­itage.

FARM TOURISM

Bay­bay was show­cas­ing its agri­cul­ture po­ten­tial long be­fore Repub­lic Act 10816 — also known as the Farm Tourism De­vel­op­ment Act 2016 — was signed into law. This is thanks to the Visayas State Univer­sity (VSU), which has been at the forefront of agri­cul­tural ed­u­ca­tion and re­search and de­vel­op­ment. Formerly the Visayas State Col­lege of Agri­cul­ture, this sprawl­ing school has been qui­etly sow­ing the seeds of farm tourism for decades with its vast gar­dens and demo farms. Sand­wiched be­tween the Pan­ga­sugan moun­tain range and the Camotes Sea, this 1,479-hectare univer­sity houses the Na­tional Abaca Re­search Cen­ter, Na­tional Co­conut Re­search Cen­ter-Visayas, the Philip­pine Root Crops Re­search and Train­ing Cen­ter, and re­gional cen­ters of agen­cies on agri­cul­ture and en­vi­ron­ment sciences. The cam­pus is con­ducive to learn­ing thanks to its back-to-na­ture at­mos­phere and green­ery which bring out the prover­bial green thumb in ev­ery stu­dent and vis­i­tor. Bay­bay is also the home of a 13,820-hectare co­conut plan­ta­tion, the big­gest in Eastern Visayas, which at­tracted big agro-in­dus­tries SC Global Coco Prod­ucts, Inc. and SC Global Food Prod­ucts, Inc. the world’s largest pro­ducer of or­ganic co­conut oil. The city is also host to Ching Bee Trad­ing Corp., the world’s big­gest trader of abaca fiber, and Spe­cialty Pulp Man­u­fac­tur­ing, Inc., Asia’s big­gest abaca pulp mill. These fac­to­ries form the core of a spe­cial­ized in­dus­trial tourism cir­cuit for bench-mark­ing of best prac­tices and tech­nolo­gies.

ECO-TOURISM

The city has the longest coast­line in Leyte, so it is not sur­pris­ing to learn that its name lit­er­ally means “beach.” It goes with­out say­ing that among its top tourist draws is its coast, bis­sected by rivers and streams em­a­nat­ing from the Pan­ga­sugan moun­tain range, which has re­mark­able flora and fauna. Lin­taon Peak, the high­est point in the moun­tain range, of­fers a com­mand­ing view of the Camotes sea and the is­lands across the chan­nel. As part of 10th city­hood day last year, Bay­bay opened the 16,000 Blos­soms Park, adorned by 16,000 LED lights, which brighten the moun­tain at night. The park is filled with white and red rose bushes in a grassy meadow whose ar­range­ment forms the phrase “I Love Bay­bay.” The park will be de­vel­oped into the Lin­taon Eco­tourism Zone, which will in­clude an in­for­ma­tion cen­ter, view deck, pavil­ion, pic­nic ar­eas, and tourist fa­cil­i­ties. The con­struc­tion of a large statue of the Im­mac­u­late Con­cep­tion is also be­ing planned to make it a pil­grim­age site to sup­ple­ment the San An­to­nio de Padua Shrine. Mean­while, ad­ven­tur­ers can ex­plore the nearby Lin­taon Cave, scale Mt. Pan­ga­sugan which served as a refuge of Filipino World War 2 gueril­las, or dip at the re­ju­ve­nat­ing wa­ters of Bak­wi­tan River and Falls.

BAY­BAY CITY’s 17,000 Blos­soms Park

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