Island Born of Fire

How far has the Filipino Everyman explored the wonders of the Philippine archipelago? What crystalline waters, sun-kissed shores, sensually-damp forests lie beneath the clouds? Contributor Art Boncato, Jr. takes Resurgent’s readers on a voyage into one of the country’s most endearing spots.

Sunburst from the horizon had already overcome the light of dawn as I looked out the window upon our descent. A tip of the island, a low rise volcano, and sand bar popped with colour, defining a bright new day.  As our turboprop aircraft decelerated to its final approach, my heart raced for yet another exhilarating stay in the island born of fire.

It was in the mid-90s when I first visited the small, pearl-shaped island of Camiguin* and aboard a small plane my boss blurted in the din, “That is an island where you fall in love or spend your honeymoon in!” Of course, fate has so far avoided me on this, but, absolutely still believe there is reason to wax poetic in a bucolic setting of dormant volcanoes, hot and cold springs, waterfalls, islets, forest reserves, robust harvests, underwater life, ancestral homes, old churches, ruins from volcanic flare-ups, and genteel settlers from age-old clans.

The 50-minute flight on a propeller plane taking off at daybreak from Mactan, and touching down on a good day in an already sun-kissed island, is as beguiling as a prayer and morning ritual for the soul. And being born of fire conjures up an image of a restless past, eruptions from a couple of its fourteen volcanoes, and now a romantic backdrop to the idyllic destination that she has become. That tiny island paradise in the middle of nowhere. Trite but true.       

Minding the future  

Former provincial governor and now chief executive of capital town Mambajao, Mayor Jurdin Jesus Romualdo, remembers a quarter of island settlers decided to stay after Mt. Hibok-Hibok spewed columns of fatal fury in 1951. This explains a current population of only close to 90,000 . “Without the mass movement then, our small chat today would have been a group of twenty, instead of six,” he jokingly estimated.

Notwithstanding population, governance and vision paved roads in the island already with the future in mind. Its 64-kilometer circumferential road completed decades ago has expanded to access roads even to the smallest clusters of communities. “This network of thoroughfares anchors the province’s big wave of urban planning that will cover power, telecommunication, water, and waste management in order to become the model Next Gen green destination it is destined to be,” Romualdo enthused.   

Connectivity and comfort 

The island’s economy has always been driven by agriculture with productivity limited to its land and changing climates. A trading stop it has become, too. Tourism has found its way to the island and its  rev-up will take off to full throttle. A deliberate whole of local government and industry approach aims to optimise exponential growth supplied by inbound travel.

In fact, Christmas came early in the island and on the first day of December, the airport was in a flurry of activities receiving flights from Cebu with Philippine Airlines’ maiden flight and Cebu Pacific adding a second connection. By mid December, a one-hour fast craft service will commence from Opol, Misamis Oriental adding to the regular ferry service from Balingoan. 

Meanwhile, medium-sized accommodation for mid-range markets will open its doors to visitors in a couple of years, giving a much-needed boost to the island's small hotel and resort sector. A targeted investment campaign for boutique-type guest rooms will direct growth within the medium-term. Access, connectivity, and accommodation checks on the must do list with these.    

#FeelCamiguin

Creating unprecedented online attention for Camiguin tourism in October, the millennial vibe of Congressman XJ Romualdo of the lone district of the province produced a well-researched, bottom-up consulted, tongue-in-cheek clip (https://www.facebook.com/Camiguintourismoffice/videos/1880456748635880/) that broke the internet with at least a million views, stimulating global interest. Inquiries from many parts of the world and a host of requests for visits are still streaming, prompting the industry to meet expectations. 

The viral success could not have been any more perfect like providing the right sizzle to the steak that is on its way to preferred doneness. Distilled from an earlier national government-commissioned masterplan, a strategic  action scheme comprised of sprint projects is underway to cover the next 20 months. Provincial Governor Ma. Luisa Romualdo has taken leadership in this and stated “We want to identify, prioritise, and initiate short-term projects that can be measured within the next couple of years. This strategy of achieving quick wins will build confidence among our tourism stakeholders and will lay the foundation for a tourism-led island economy.”   

No “tourism island” is an island

The Romualdo triumvirate is on deck driving tourism as a sustainable, community-based,  and inclusive industry. The tourism private sector is close by and aligned with the leadership. 

Although a law mandates the destination a Tourism Development Area (R.A. No. 10907 - Camiguin Tourism Act), the natural, timely, and inspired  convergence of support from stakeholders has ignited a new zest and sparked a new blaze for tourism to become an eternal flame in the island born of fire.

Mr. Boncato is a Philippine Trade Assistant Secretary currently detailed to the Department of Finance for the 51st ADB Annual Meeting in Manila in May 2018. He was a former Assistant Secretary for the Tourism Department.

* Camiguin is an island-province in the Philippines located in the Bohol Sea, about 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) off the northern coast of Mindanao. It is the second-smallest province in the country in both population and land area. 

Attached photos "Mantigue Island" and "Tuasan Falls" courtesy of Glen Santillan