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The Veiled Beauty of Zamboanga del Sur

 Quick notes on my Zamboanga del Sur - Mindanao trip last February 11 - 13, 2010.

“We inherited an age-old conflict in Mindanao, exacerbated by a politically popular but nearsighted policy of massive retaliation. This only provoked the other side to continue the war.”
- President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo during her State of the Nation Address, 27 July 2009

Why I picked Zamboanga

I’ve always known Mindanao for the region’s armed conflicts, which was officially between the Philippine government and the MILF.  It was further aggravated by violent acts by other armed groups, privately armed militias and powerful feuding clans. Last November 2009, the Maguindanao Massacre also known as Ampatuan Massacre - which prompts the declaration of Martial Law in the province, shocked us.

Mindanao is beautiful, however, its beauty was veiled by that dark political issues confronting the region. But despite that, I still decided to be assigned in Zamboanga del Sur, the western part of the island of Mindanao, as proctor for this year’s Maritime Schools Assessment Program (MSAP). Everybody is asking me if I’m sure about this trip. I said yes, I’m sure. I badly need some distractions on this boring everyday routine – I guess it’s that feeling of excitement and danger that attracted me to this part of the country. 

Why I’m in Zamboanga – aside from leisure

Our main purpose of going in Zamboanga is because of the Maritime School Assessment Program (MSAP). It is a nationwide standard academic assessment test for all second year students taking up Bachelor of Science in Marine Transportation (BSMT) or Bachelor of Science in Marine Engineering (BSMarE). It is an undertaking of the Philippine-Japan Manning Consultative Council, Inc. (PJMCC) jointly with other members of the Joint Manning Group (JMG). My last year’s assignment was in Davao City and in 2008 I went to Laoag City - so why not Mindanao this time? I was considering Cotabato but finally decided to take Zamboanga.

Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur – Little Hong Kong of the South?
Before landing, I saw the picturesque harbors of Pagadian City. It was so beautiful and natural, but we don’t have extra time and budget to visit these places – maybe next time. We just planned a quick city tour instead.

Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur is the largest province in Western Mindanao and the point of entry to the cities of Ozamiz, Iligan and Cotabato, But the airport in Pagadian City is currently undergoing renovation and expansion, so we took the 11:25 am PR flight bound for Ozamis City Airport. It was a two-and-a-half hour flight from Manila and from Ozamis airport. Then we took another one-hour land trip going to Pagadian City together with Dr. Sulpicio Etcuban, our MSAP coordinator from our host school, the Zamboanga del Sur Maritime Institute of Technology (ZSMIT). It’s a long trip actually but it was nice because we got the chance to take a peek at the Mindanao countryside, covered by golden rice fields and unending rows of coconut trees. It’s refreshing to escape the congested Metro Manila once in a while. 
Pagadian City is like Subic Bay in Olongapo, very organize and clean but more mountainous. What caught my attention is their uniquely designed tricycle – the passenger seats are tilted upward like a kalesa, but more diagonally inclined. I asked some locals why it is designed that way and they said it’s because of the rolling terrain surrounding both the commercial and residential districts, The locals also boast it to be “only in Pagadian” with great pride!

We stayed at the Pagadian City Bay Plaza Hotel on our first night. The rooms are nice and clean but the hotel staff are not attentive, the front desk personnel are unsmiling, keeps on talking on their local dialect in front of us and room keys are not working. We are thankful we were transferred at Alindahaw Hotel on our second night. (Quick Facts: Alindahaw is a local term for Dragonfly)
I don’t know why they are calling Pagadian City as the “Little Hong Kong of the South.” I’ve never been to Hong Kong so I’d rather not question it. I just notice that the city sleeps at nine or ten in the evening – effects of the Mindanao armed conflicts I guess.

Pasalubong Shopping and City Tour
We headed directly at the Zamboanga del Sur Maritime Institute of Technology right after we arrived at the busy city of Pagadian. We met with the very hospitable school officials and professors for the formalities and pre-exam briefing and merienda. 
Then we did a quick tour of the city and visited some shops for some pasalubong. I am looking for some Pagadian City delicacies or sweets, unfortunately there’s none. What they have there are colorful sarongs, batik, beautiful shawls, and other Muslim-inspired outfits. 
They also have a big market section just for dried fish and squid. They sell all sorts of dried fish – unfortunately my favorite tuyong espada isn’t available that time so I bought four packs of dried squid instead.
To experience riding their uniquely designed tricycle, we decided hiring a local tricycle driver for our city tour. We enjoyed the ride going to the scenic rotunda and did a quick horseback riding in the area, which only costs twenty pesos.

Personal Notes

I only saw a portion of Mindanao, therefore I can’t say that Mindanao is generally a good and safe place to visit. Nonetheless, I can say that the beautiful Mindanao were definitely veiled by the ugly face of the war.

Fortunately I visited a city with warm and hospitable people, with laid-back and clean environment. It was a nice trip – thanks to our host: from the ZSMIT staff – the university owner Mr. Galileo Maglasang, Dr. Sulpicio Etcuban and our assistant proctors Capt. Bernabe P. Cepe, Mr. Daniel Belza and Mr. Arman Lapuz. I also enjoyed the company of my cool co-proctors: Grace, my friend and officemate, and the two proctors we met on the plane, Ms. Helen Aguilar and Ms. Lilibeth Delgado.

More of our pictures HERE  

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