, August 28, 2003  (BULLETIN) By RACHEL CASTRO-BARAWID - Perhaps blinded by the negative publicities on violence and misconceptions on safety and security, many are not aware that the Zamboanga peninsula is actually a gem of a destination for both tourists and investors and a treasure chest of various cultures, attractions and products.

Manileños, most of whom hesitate to go to this paradise in Western Mindanao due to misinformation, will have the opportunity to see the other side of Zamboanga in a rare showcase guaranteed to change their perception of the region and even send them packing for a true adventure down South.

Taking centerstage until Aug. 31 at the Best of the Regions cultural market in Pueblo Pilipino, Intramuros is the Zamboanga Peninsula, composed of the provinces of Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur and Zamboanga Sibugay. The Department of Tourism-hosted regional exhibit is part of the year-long celebration of Visit Philippines Year 2003.

“Through this showcase, we hope to show the real Zamboanga, its people, culture, songs and dances and products. There are a lot of things about the region that are just waiting to be discovered by our fellow countrymen and foreign tourists,” DoT Reg. 9 director Ricardo San Juan said.

Dubbed “Hola Zamboanga Peninsula”, the two-weeklong exhibit unveils the million and one things visitors can find in the smallest region of Mindanao. It also highlights the world-class tourist attractions located in its five cities of Zamboanga, Dipolog, Dapitan, Pagadian and Isabela, Basilan.

Two of Zamboanga’s landmarks such as the Plaza Pershing, Buklugan House and its no. 1 trademark – its vintas have been brought to the History Town Philippines in Intramuros for the duration of the exhibit.

A look into an intricately-designed diorama or miniature version of the Zamboanga peninsula at the clamshell tent provides visitors a glimpse of the general topography of the region.

Composed of 958 islands and islets, Zamboanga peninsula used to be the capital of the whole Mindanao island (formerly called Moro Province) from 1903 to 1913, with five districts which are Cotabato, Davao, Sulu, Lanao and Zamboanga.

It was also the seat of Christianity in Mindanao, having been introduced first in Zamboanga city. According to some historians, no other group of Filipinos can be said to have been more Hispanized than the Zamboangeños because of their Chabacano dialect which is 70 percent Spanish and 30 percent an amalgam of other native dialects. This is attributed to almost three centuries of Spanish rule in Zamboanga.

About a third of its 1.6 million population is composed of ethnic groups. The rest are Christians and migrants from neighboring places.

“It is only in Zamboanga where one can find the unique blend of Christian and the five tribes: Samal, Badjao, Yakan, Subanon and Tausug,” San Juan noted.

Called “People of the River” the Subanons are the aborigines of Zamboanga settling in the city before the Spanish occupation. They were known to be among those engaged in barter trading with the Chinese and Malays during the 13th and 14th century.

Referred to as the Philippine sea gypsies, the Badjaos spend their lives on their small boats and coast along the waters of the Sulu archipelago. To this day, about two-thirds of this tribe still use boats as permanent living quarters. This tribe which are composed of two groups are found in Basilan, Zamboanga, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

The Samals are peace-loving people living in the shorelines of northern Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan and Zamboanga Peninsula.

Known as the warriors, the Tausugs are the most politically dominant group in the Sulu Archipelago. They have formed the Sultanate of Sulu during the 15th century. The Tausug communities are concentrated in the smaller islands of Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, and Southern Palawan.

The Yakans are the most artistic of the five tribes. Mostly weavers, the Yakans boast of their intricately designed hand-woven cloth which no other tribe in the country can imitate. Their skin-tight trousers and bulky waist sashes serve as protection from bladed weapons or as comfy hammocks at night. This tribal group resides in Isabela, Zamboanga and Lamitan, Basilan.

The famed Yakan cloth made into sarongs, table runners, placemats, cellphone holders, tote and belt bags including a traditional Yakan costume can be found inside the Intramuros cultural market. Visitors are also treated to a demonstration of Yakan weaving. It is said that the loom being used by the Yakans are also the same type normally used in Indonesia.

The Zamboangeños have also brought their kris. These knives (crooked in shape) were used by datus in the olden times while the barong (leaf-shaped) were worn by the lower class. Store owner Jimmy Lubian, a retired soldier said the expensive knives which are made of steel cost about R4,000 and above. He also sells musical instruments such as kulintang and gong, house décor such as wooden vintas, Cabo (jars), and furniture.

Women will be delighted to find several booths selling authentic South Sea pearls from Mindanao. A simple set necklace and bracelet costs R70, and earrings as low as R50 a pair. The more valuable 14 and 18-Karat pearls from oyster shells, range from R500 to R42,000 for a set of earrings and ring. Also available are earrings, necklaces and other accessories made from shells, Capiz and Cat’s Eye stone (a semi-precious stone set on stainless steel).

There are also Porcelain wares from China and dainty bags made from banig, abaca fiber sheet and some adorned with silkflowers.

The more adventurous can purchase products made from skins of various animals. There are bags, hats, wallets, key chains made from ostrich, snakes, toad, parrot fish, pig skin, and crocodiles. Items like keychains cost only R20 but an ostrich bag is priced at R4,719.

Best buys at the exhibit-cum-cultural market are food such as the tasty curacha (deep sea crabs) and fresh-water lobsters found only in the Zamboanga Sibugay river, Zamboanga oysters, Alavar Bagoong and Gata, calamansi and Dipolog sardines. The sardines which come in tomato sauce, corn oil, and with bangus variety cost R50 each. For the sweet tooth, the region’s delicacies include “Lukot-Lukot” (crispy rice roll), pastillas, and Alfajor biscuit (made from sticky rice).

Crowd favorites are the German sausages of Zamboanga (Zambo). Mister Sausage owner Wolfgang Schlauch, a native of Frankfurt, Germany began his sausage business in Zambo city after marrying a Zamboangeña. His son Gregor who helps in the family business said they only use the original German recipe. Though more expensive than ordinary sausages in Zamboanga, Mister Sausage has become popular in the entire region including Cagayan and is now the main supplier of several restaurants in the city. Available are sausages in various flavors such as pepperoni, salami milano, Bratwurst, Veal Sausage, Knocker/Schublig (with cheese), Frankfurter, and many others including French ham, smoked bacon, German corned beef, and pork liver pate. Must-try are the spicy variety such as the Beef Hungarian and Grillwurst Hot, at R230+ a pack.

Aside from these products, Director San Juan said they are also offering budget tour packages to the region’s top attractions for the duration of the exhibit.

In Zamboanga city alone, numerous sites await tourists. Among these are the Sta. Cruz island known for its pinkish sand; the 58-hectare Pasonanca Park where one can stay overnight in a treehouse with modern room amenities; Fort Pilar, the center of Spanish settlement and the last Spanish stronghold to surrender to the Americans; Plaza Pershing, a former Spanish square renamed in honor of then American Moro Province Gov. Gen. John “Blackjack” Pershing; Yakan Weaving village; Vista del Mar Resort; and the Zamboanga Golf Course and Beach Park.

Tours also include a visit to the Samal tribe’s Taluksangay Village where one can see their little houses on stilts. The religious can likewise drop by the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception , said to be the most modern cathedral in the country and the only one with an elevator.

Zamboanga del Norte is home to Dr. Jose Rizal’s temporary shelter while on exile, Dapitan; and to the world-famous Dakak Beach Resort of the Jalosjos family.

The national hero was exiled in Dapitan from July 17, 1892 to July 31, 1896. Now called a Shrine City, Dapitan’s top historical landmark is the 16-hectare original estate of Rizal which he acquired during his exile. The sprawling property houses his residence; the Casa Redonda, an octagonal dwelling which served as quarters for Rizal’s pupils and later on converted as clinic; the chicken house called Casa Redonda Pequena; Casitas Hospitales, a bigger clinic that accommodated patients from far-flung municipalities; and the Mi Retiro Rock, a natural heart-shaped rock where Rizal wrote verses of his poems Mi Retiro and Himno a Talisay.

Dipolog city, the capital of Zambo del Norte, also has interesting attractions such as the Filipino-Japanese Memorial Park, Sicayab Beach, Linabo Peak, mango and citrus plantations, and the Cogon Jungle Adventure.

Meanwhile, Pagadian city, the capital of Zambo del Sur is the “Little Hong Kong of the South.” It has earned this title because its rolling terrain which encompasses both residential and commercial districts is said to be reminiscent of the former Crown colony. Attractions of the province include Tukuran Beach, a former World War II submarine landing area turned tourist spot; Ditoray Waterfalls, permanent Boy and Girl Scout site; hanging bridges; and caves.

The Moalboal caves, on the other hand, is the top attraction of Zamboanga Sibugay, the newest province which was signed into law by former President Estrada in 2001.

A trip to the region would not be complete without a visit to Malamawi island in Isabela, Basilan. Its beach is claimed by some as the Boracay of Zamboanga region. Other interesting stops are the waterfalls and houses on stilts located within the area.

Finally, San Juan said the region is also the gateway to Asian countries. He boasted of having the cheapest international fare (even cheaper than going to Manila) for those who want to cross to neighboring Malaysia from Zamboanga. For only R1,500, one can already travel to Sandakan, Malaysia via a ferry for approximately 17 hours. Ferry leaves at 3 p.m. and arrives in Sandakan at 8 a.m. the next day.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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