BY PET MELLIZA/ THE BEEKEEPER
Iloilo City Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog does it right by just taking in stride Iloilo Gov. Arthur D. Defensor’s remark.
The media blew up the governor’s commentary as derogatory of the city.
Mabilog’s mouthpiece Jefrey Celiz took that as declaration of war and tersely reminded Defensor he had already too much to handle in the province itself. Mind your own business, Celiz snorted in effect.
Defensor merely called a spade a spade: neither the city nor province has sufficient infrastructure to cater to large tourist arrivals, although the governor took more time to dig at the city for its perennial problems like insufficient potable water supply and sanitation.
The problem is not Defensor but the overly sensitive ear that refuses to listen to the wisdom behind his candid remark.
Defensor is just unfortunate that Mabilog has the likes of Jefrey Celiz who considers it mortal sin and brooks no second thought to growl at anyone who, well pardon this repetition, calls a spade a spade.
Mabilog’s apologists like tourism officer Ben Jimena happens to define “success” in tourism to mean hordes of foreign tourists swarming on Iloilo.
So what if Iloilo’s share in foreign tourism is miniscule?
Let’s learn our history and take a look at our present. Iloilo Province has never been a tourist destination yet it is the premier province in W. Visayas and contributes as much as Cebu Province to national growth.
Iloilo City likewise is not known to attract hordes of foreign tourists and its growth never depended on international tourism, yet it was and still is W. Visayas’s premier urban area. We are not surprised to encounter Cebuano-speaking residents, mostly from Cebu, employed in Iloilo City, which means, there is growth and jobs in the city despite low foreign tourist arrivals.
Iloilo’s strength comes from within: it is the country’s 3rd largest rice producer and is the biggest source of hogs shipped to Metro Manila, the rest of the Visayas and Mindanao. Swine farming is Iloilo’s single biggest economic activity, next to rice.
Iloilo is still a big success in tourism despite the dearth of foreign tourists. And its strength, as a Tai Chi adage goes, “lies from within” that adverse external events can’t dislodge it like what nearly crippled Boracay Island in 1997 when the “Asian economic flu” exploded and cut down tourist arrivals.
It sounds paradoxical: Iloilo has a booming tourism economy even if few foreigners arrived. The reason is, again, its strength lies from within. The city and province possess a strong “domestic tourism” tradition. Unique Ilonggo cuisine continues to be patronized by fellow Ilonggos and Filipinos from other regions.
Iloilo remains a favorite venue of national conventions of both government agencies and private companies owing to hotel accommodations that are reasonably priced. They pick Iloilo because in between schedules or after conferences, the guests can repair to restaurants to relish Ilonggo delicacies, or fan out to stores for Ilonggo pastries, that again, are unique in the Philippines.
Absence of foreign tourists does not bother beach-resort owners of southern Iloilo because fellow Ilonggos patronize them. Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) trustee and southern Iloilo partriarch Oscar Garin, Sr. can attest to that.
Iloilo City is home to schools that balloon its population in school days giving life to downstream businesses (boarding houses, eateries, transport, etc.).
To the contrary, it is the obsession to convert Iloilo City into one single hotel for foreign tourism that bothers us, the gradual death of Iloilo River (actually an arm of the sea and not a “river”) for tourism sake.
Iloilo River used to be the hub of Ilonggo economy that earned it the moniker “Queen City of the South”. It was a bustling entrepot and premier wharf outside Manila. Its banks hosted ship building facilities, dry docks, fish canneries, an automobile assembly plant, a tire factory, and rows of bodegas and ice plants.
Where are they now? Gone. Fishing boat operators migrated to Roxas City, Capiz. With their departure, the last ice plant at the port shut down. Joe Borres, owner of a fleet of steel-hulled boats, rued they were evicted because Iloilo River was being infected by a virus called “tourism ek-ek.”