November 4, 2004 (STAR) RENDEZVOUS By Christine S. Dayrit - There is a place where opportunities abound, where information and communications technology are the most advanced in the world, where call centers and cartoon animators are eyeing to transfer their operations, where education being a top priority is made affordable for everyone and where the English language is recognized as the "language of empowerment."

Here, eco-tourism is a way of life, where spinner dolphins and pilot whales incessantly perform stunts before tourists, knowing they are safe from harm. In this nirvana of white sandy beaches, glorious waterfalls and lush forests, fiestas don’t only occur every feast of a patron saint, but they exist in the heart and soul of its people.

All these and more await you in Oriental Negros.

It is recorded in the book Reminiscences and Travels of our national hero Dr. Jose Rizal that on Aug. 1, 1896, he sailed from Dapitan to Dumaguete, capital of Oriental Negros, where he observed the penchant of the townsfolk to care for their environment by adorning their homes with plants and flowers. It is believed that Rizal coined the moniker "City of Gentle People" during his brief stay in Dumaguete.

Today, the Rizal Boulevard is an esplanade that stretches 800 meters along the seawall from the wharf to Colon St. It is home to cozy restaurants like Mamia’s owned by the family of Dumaguete City Mayor Agustin Perdices, Internet cafes and Sans Rival, the original bake-shop that makes that delightful buttery pastry.

The Protestant-run Silliman University, also known as The Campus by the Sea, sprawls over 56 hectares, its central quadrangle bordered by 307 centuries-old towering acacia trees planted by the American missionaries. The institution was a magnanimous gift of $10,000 from Dr. Horace Brinsmade Silliman, a philanthropist from Cohoes, New York, who founded Silliman barely five months after the end of the Fil-American War.

Oriental Negros Gov. George Arnaiz was quick to share: "Education, which is our number one resource, brings about people empowerment." Today, an international community of foreign students from Korea, China, the Middle East, America, Europe, and the rest of the world learn in harmony and camaraderie.

According to Francel Martinez, head of the Oriental Negros Investment Promotion Center: "Since people in Dumaguete speak and write in English very proficiently, six out of 10 of their applicants to call centers and business process outsourcing jobs are actually hired. Only one out of 10 applicants to these ICT jobs from Manila and Luzon is hired."

Also at the College of Nursing & Allied Health Sciences of Silliman University, the passing rate for the national licensure exams has been 100 percent since 1952. In fact, it has become a standing joke that if one were to fail the nursing board exam, a monument would be erected in his/her (dis)honor!

Engr. Alfredo Ang, dean of the College of Information Technology & Computer Science at Silliman University, showed us the impressive fiber optics technology that was a gift from Islacom through Deutsche Telecom. Here, blackboard and chalk are a thing of the past, and in their place are audio speakers and video monitors that flash the lessons on screen.

Among Dumaguete City’s 100,000 population – four out of 10 of whom are college graduates – three other universities offer high quality education at affordable rates: the country’s first St. Paul University which is celebrating its centennial this month, the new Negros Oriental State University, and Foundation University which is currently under the leadership of Dean Sinco, a University of Washington-trained architect, and Dr. Mira Dragon-Sinco who got her academic training in Michigan State University and at Harvard University.

Dean Sinco toured us around the 5.5-hectare property of Foundation University, planned by his grandfather Dr. Vicente G. Sinco, former UP president, to resemble the Greco-Roman styled UP Diliman. Dean noted: "In the past, there was no economic reason for college graduates to stay in Dumaguete. Our goal now is to produce graduates who can work here, allowing the city to be globally competitive."

Our media trip to Oriental Negros was brought about by a familiarization tour to the second annual Buglasan Festival of Festivals.

Gracious Governor Arnaiz who heads the Oriental Negros Investment Board explained: "The Buglasan is a one-stop shop for Oriental Negros’ tourism and recreational sites. Here, we highlight our investment potentials, our technical capability in information & telecommunications, agricultural products, our achievements in culture and the arts."

It was also the Yagyag Festival from the town of Sibulan last year that bested challengers from all over the country including winners in Bacolod’s Masskara, Iloilo’s Dinagyang, and Tacloban’s Pintados, judged the WOW Philippines street-dancing champion.

We were impressed by the 13 contingents from Oriental Negros and their spectacular showmanship during the street-dancing contest held at the jampacked 5,000-seat Cong. Lamberto Macias Sports and Cultural Center.

Another major highlight was the dolphin- and whale-watching trip in Bais wherein we spotted about 30 spinner dolphins whose playful antics in the Tañon Strait were photographed by Michael Ocampo. Bais City Mayor Hector "Tata" Villanueva ensured we had a sumptuous lunch of kilawin, seashells, and grilled fish on board the huge bancas, while docked at the two-hectare sandbar (at least that day when the tide was so low). We learned that in August 1993, Silliman marine biologist Dr. Louela Dolar and Dr. William Perrin of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography of the University of California- San Diego led a group for a seven-day expedition of the Tañon Strait aboard the MV Aquastar. Their findings of over 20 species of dolphins and whales created an awareness of unprecedented value and gave birth to an organized eco-tourism industry in Bais.

A quick visit to the Oriental Negros Provincial Tourism Office made us all vow to explore all the natural scenic spots and glorious finds of the area. Consider these: Valencia town’s "Little Baguio" where sweet fruits and wild colorful flowers bloom in the cool mountain climate; the glorious Niludhan Falls of Bayawan City; the sea, sun and fun in Manjuyod; Amlan’s natural bounties; and Tayasan’s crispy lechon, freshest seafoods, and crunchy amargoso-pipino salad. We will not forget the export quality abaca-leather woven bags we brought home to Manila. Neither will we forget the budbod (suman) packed in native bags, from Tanjay City.

Most enlightening was the lecture of former Pepsi and Islacom president Fred Dael who said that our country should learn more about the rest of the country. He enthused "Dumaguete City in Oriental Negros has the most advanced telecommunications system in the world, comparable only to the ones in Germany."

From the time Deutsche Telecom infused $2.5 billion worth of fiber optics in the region five years ago, businessmen, investors and the rest of our countrymen have yet to maximize this wealth of technology for advancement and progress. Call centers, the "single largest social upheaval" in the Philippine economy, can set up anytime and anywhere in the province of Oriental Negros.

For job seekers in Oriental Negros, one can earn a higher take-home pay because of the lower cost of living. Or one can own a house by the mountain, or along the beachfront – which will probably be the amount of one’s rental in a cramped apartment in Manila, according to Engr. Greg Uymatiao Jr., president of the Negros Oriental Business Development Foundation.

Gone are the perceptions of the laid-back south. Their infectious passion for progress, for global competitiveness and their value of quality education is truly admirable. Experiencing the developments of Oriental Negros makes me very proud to be a Filipino. Imagine the great minds and leaders from Oriental Negros like Dr. Angel C. Alcala, the father of community-based coastal resources management or National Artist for Literature Dr. Edith Tiempo, National Artist for Film Eddie Romero and Architect Manny Almagro who was part of the team that did restoration work on the Statue of Liberty.

The ultimate goal of a traveler, who in many ways is like a wandering nomad, is to eventually find a place where he may reside, settle in, and grow old gracefully. Once he finds his place in the sun, having gone full circle, he is complete.

Let that place be Oriental Negros, on the right side of Negros Island, where the sun rises, blessing this favored land of progressive yet gentle and caring people with bountiful opportunities for a brighter future.

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You can direct your inquiries about Oriental Negros to its Investment Promotion Center on www.investoriental.com or www.touroriental.com or tel. no. (35) 226-1036.

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Post me a note at miladay@pacific.net.ph.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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