VIEW FROM THE PALACE:  THE HOLY WEEK BREAK

MALACANANG,
APRIL 16, 2006 (OFFICE OF THE PRESS SECRETARY) View from the Palace (For the week ending April 09, 2006)

Over the Holy Week break, my family experienced a completely different Subic Bay, courtesy of the hardworking men and women of SBMA, led by Chair Fil Salonga, Administrator Armand Arreza and ret. Gen. Jose Calimlim. Our trip began with the marvelous arrangements by Gina Agustin, Armi Llamas, Sep Ruiz, and SBMA tourism manager Benny Triguero II. We were assigned an amiable guide, Milbert Adlawan, who made sure every minute of our stay was filled with new adventures. Milbert was among the original volunteers who cleaned up Subic Base and its environs after the Mt. Pinatubo eruption almost 15 years ago. He has stayed on and is eager to show visitors all of Subic’s nooks and crannies.

Among the highlights of our visit were jungle survival skills demonstrations at Pamulaklakan village by an Aeta, Mang Miguel, who taught us how to start a fire without matches and cooking rice using bamboo. One of the original instructors during the US bases years, Tata Iking Bulatao, is now based in the United States and continues to teach jungle survival techniques. At another area of the Jungle Environment Survival Training (JEST) Camp, a grandson of Tata Iking taught us other skills such as another method of starting a fire and getting drinking water from a bamboo.

For the extreme adventurists, Slide for Life provides absolute thrill. One starts from the highest point swinging fast downwards from treetop to treetop while suspended by a harnesss on steel cables. The other stages involve negotiating hanging bridges, and finally, trekking upwards to point of origin.

In an area adjacent to the JEST Camp, we had an educational afternoon viewing exhibits at the Spiderworld, Butterfly Farm and Bird Park. These exhibits are highly recommended for the whole family.

Just as educational and enriching was our visit to Zoobic Safari, one of the newest and most popular attractions at Subic Bay. Zoobic Safari, a joint venture between SBMA and the Yupangco Group, gives visitors a chance to see various animals up close and, in certain instances, to pet them. I had a chance to pet a tiger cub and carry a huge python. Many of the animals we saw are indigenous to the Philippines, such as civet cats, various breeds of monkeys and of course, whitebreasted eagles and brahminy kites. Others were obtained from overseas, such as tigers, ostriches, sheep, a moon bear and cassowary. In the case of the tigers and ostriches, Zoobic Safari has been quite successful in breeding them locally, according to Safari Manager Delia de Jesus.

A visit to Zoobic Safari would not be complete without taking the safari ride, where visitors board a jeepney, protected with iron mesh of course, to see the tigers lounging in pools and basking in the sun. Our guide dangled a live chicken through the jeepney’s window in the hope that a tiger would chase our jeep and give us a thrill. Unfortunately, with the more than 2000 visitors to Zoobic Safari during Holy Week, the tigers appeared sated and bored.

A side trip to the Subic small arms firing range, with Benny Triguero and SBMA law enforcement chief Jaime Calunsag, capped one afternoon.

On Good Friday, we drove to Casa San Miguel in Zambales for the annual performance of Haydn’s The Seven Last Words by renowned violinist Coke Bolipata and the Pundaquit virtuosi. This dramatic and moving work was composed by Haydn to serve as descriptive orchestral interludes between the spoken portions of the Holy Week service in the 1700s. It was our second year to experience and the artistry of Coke Bolipata and his young protégés. Coke and his family of artists are committed to bringing his music to groups and places where orchestral music is not normally performed. A new addition to Casa San Miguel is an exhibit hall for paintings and other visual arts.

Breaking tradition, my family stayed at Grande Island Resort this year, where we all had a relaxing time and enjoyed the unparalleled hospitality of owners Robin and Nancy Tan, and General Manager Thomas Lee. Just one and a half years in operation, Grande Island Resort is being visited in record numbers by tourists from Taiwan and Korea, many of whom fly directly to Subic. Other guests take day trips and come in droves on the ferry that makes several runs daily. The resort currently has 80 rooms (casitas} facing Subic Bay and work is about to begin on a two-phase construction of a seaside hotel which when completed would provide an additional 96 rooms. Grande Island has become a favorite venue for corporate and team building events from where, we were told, no one can ‘escape’.

Our adjoining casitas featured breezy porches from where one could just spend the whole day enjoying the fresh air or watching around ten varieties of birds that regularly visit the alagao trees for their morning meal. Just a stone’s throw away are a variety of water sports activities, such as snorkeling, jet skiing and fishing, Special thanks go to Filman Sibulo who took care of us throughout our stay. On our first day, Filman, whose father-in-law Nito Coronel once drove for my wife’s family, guided me around the island as we drove in a convoy of four-wheeled bikes. Among the attractions are WWII gun emplacements and fortified bunkers.

After regularly visiting Subic for many years, there are still many new places to discover, such as the Seafood by the Bay restaurant owned by the siblings Johnny and Jeannett Ong, which only opened last December. Another favorite gastronomic destination is the Golden Dragon Restaurant where former US President Clinton dined during the APEC Summit.

Investments continue to pour in (not the least of which is the Hanjin shipbuilding facility) which together with Subic International Airport would help establish the Subic-Clark corridor as the leading logistics hub in the region.

Truly, Subic is a hub for business, nature, entertainment and history.

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