Calapan – Uncovering The Rich Culture & History Behind A Magical Gateway

Calapan – Uncovering The Rich Culture & History Behind A Magical Gateway

Calapan City Mayor Arnan C. Panaligan

MY RANGGO’s EXCLUSIVE interview with Calapan City Mayor Arnan C. Panaligan

Calapan is the Capitol of Oriental Mindoro, and the only city. The local economy is founded on Agriculture, and the Commerce Industry.

Famed for its rich land, which produces rice, corn, coconuts, vegetables, and fruits: like calamansi, banana, rambutan, marang or uloy, lanzones and durian. Calapan is a major supplier to the surrounding regions of Mimaropa, Calabarzon and Metro Manila.

Calapan has also seen a boom in Tourism, Trade, Services and a growing Commercial sector with new shops, banks, tourism facilities, hotels and resorts.

MY RANGGO Magazine met with Mayor Arnan C. Panaligan to talk about Calapan. A tourism spot which offers something a little different.

MY RANGGO: Calapan’s economy has really grown in the last 20 years, why do you think this is?

Mayor Arnan C. Panaligan: Calapan was made a city on 21st March 1998. I was Mayor at the time. Becoming a city led to an influx of new businesses and investments.

We became more stable and more well known.  Local business men started to invest by building resorts, hotels and restaurants.  So Tourism really boomed here too. Of course that also meant more jobs for local people. And when more people are earning a wage, they have more money to spend locally. As a result we’ve seen more restaurants built and opened. That’s just one example.

MY RANGGO:  Do you have a favourite dish, something that is special to Calapan?

Mayor Arnan C. Panaligan: Delicacies like suman, kutsinta, puto; those are the local specialties.

Of course other provinces have their own version. Each place has their own process/way, recipe, presentation, and packaging. But definitely our suman, suman sa lihiya, and puto, puto bungbong. These are available every day here, not just during Christmas.

MY RANGGO: What are your plans for the city, for the next few years?

Mayor Arnan C. Panaligan: We want to build a city which is safe, sustainable and environmentally protected. With a high quality of life.  We are building a sanitary landfill, so we can have proper waste disposal. And we will implement a Solid Waste Management Act. We will revive Calapan River, which is in the center of the city.  It has been in a sorry state for decades but we have already started to revive it. 

We want to improve our residents quality of life too. We are providing health care to our citizens, and opening more opportunities for education. During my term as governor we also built the new Oriental Mindoro Provincial Hospital. This is a 200-bed facility providing a good service to our people.

We want to prevent the proliferation of slum areas. Slums rise whenever a city attains progress. So we have implemented a Housing Program for Informal Settlers.

MY RANGGO: You currently have 1,500 Hotel rooms in Calapan. Do you plan to build more?

Mayor Arnan C. Panaligan: Yes, we are attracting private investments to put up more hotels. We prefer that tourism is private-sector led, not government-led.  Certainly the City can manage to absorb more tourists and visitors. We don’t need to worry about a Carry-Capacity, like Boracay, yet.

MY RANGGO: How do you attract Boracay or Puerto Galera tourists, to also visit Calapan? Both have ferries that dock at Calapan

Mayor Arnan C. Panaligan: Good question.

Our idea there is to look at the data; how many tourists pass through Calapan, on to Puerto Galera or Boracay. We have found that a good number of Puerto Galera tourists decide to stay in Calapan. Especially during Peak Season. Puerto Galera gets congested and since our roads are good, and it’s less than an hour away, many people stay in Calapan Hotels.

We have banks here, shopping malls, fast food, restaurants and our own attractions. They stay overnight here, go to Puerto Galera and then come back on the same day. 

So we’re pushing Calapan as a base. It’s important that we promote our city as a place where people can stay on route to somewhere else.  

MY RANGGO: Do you have any other specific plans for more tourism growth?

Mayor Arnan C. Panaligan: Well we don’t have any spectacular natural wonders like other destinations in the Philippines.  We don’t have rain forests, or mountains because we are a city.  But we do have features here in Calapan, which we focus on.

So we package our city as a venue for other tourist attractions.  Especially our festivals, like the Santo Niño de Calapan Festival and our Kalap Festival, which celebrates our Founding Day on the 21st March.

Our City Hall was partly designed and built to act as a tourist attraction, as well as a City Hall. And it is. Even people who are traveling through Calapan stop, so they can have photos taken in front of it.

We are putting up facilities at the Calapan Nature Park. All inspired by other countries I have visited. Just look at places like Singapore. They don’t have mountains but 30 million tourists visit them every year! Everything there is developed by people, it can be done not just in Calapan but in Metro Manila.

We are positioning Calapan as a place for sports tourism. We are building a coliseum that can seat 4-5,000 people. I am confident that this will enable us to attract bigger sports events. 

And we are also building a Convention Center with a 2-3,000 capacity, which will allow us to promote our city as the perfect place for conventions.

Calapan City Hall
Calapan City Hall. Image from City Mayor Arnan C Panaligan’s official page

MY RANGGO: Calapan is the biggest sea port on Mindoro, are there plans for Cruise Tourism?

Mayor Arnan C. Panaligan: I haven’t been on a cruise. It’s something I would like to try so I could maybe get some ideas.  But I think that Calapan City and other parts of Oriental Mindoro could be a good destination for cruise ships.  

They can land at the port of Calapan, as a starting point and explore our beaches. Then travel on to nearby towns, to the lakes and waterfalls. The port is here, the hotels are here, the restaurants are here. So yes, it is something we might look at.

MY RANGGO: What else makes Calapan different from other tourism destinations?

Mayor Arnan C. Panaligan: We are certainly an alternative to more expensive destinations. Not all travelers have lots of money to spend on their holiday. 

The benefits of Calapan is, it is easy to come here.  It’s very near to Metro Manila and to Batangas. So it is a lot cheaper to come here, than to go to other cities or destinations in the Philippines.

And Calapan city is as a place for religious or spiritual tourism. A place for religious pilgrimage’s.   We have a number of churches, convents and monastery’s in the city.  These can offer sanctuary for people who want peace, quiet and solitude. 

Maybe they want to get away from the hustle and bustle of urban life in Manila, or other big cities.  They can find solace and sanctuary here in our city.

MY RANGGO: We notice that there are a lot of festivals that go on in Calapan, and Oriental Mindoro too! These must attract a lot of tourists

Mayor Arnan C. Panaligan: Yes, we have the Santo Niño de Calapan Festival, the Kalap Festival, Singkaw and Mardigras. 

Whilst Sto Niño is a religious festival, our Kalap Festival pays homage to the work of our farmers and fisher folk, who built our local economy ever since. It is a ‘Harvest and Catch’ Festival.   Because we are a major rice producer and we are also a coastal city.  So fishing and farming are our two main sources of livelihood.

MY RANGGO: What is the history for the Santo Niño Festival, and what can tourists expect to see?

Mayor Arnan C. Panaligan: Throughout December we have events, such as concerts, shows at the plaza, choral competitions leading up to the Fiesta and Parade on the 1st January.

Santo Niño has been our patron since the Spanish period of the 1600’s and 1700’s.  Since time memorial our fiesta has been observed on 1st January. 

Of course, it is very difficult to attract visitors to our City on January 1. Most people stay home with their families in Manila.  But we still attract a good number of visitors. Especially local Balikbayan’s; people from Calapan who live and work in other destinations. 

They come home to Calapan City in December to participate in the Santo Niño Fiesta.  Throughout December we have events, such as concerts, shows at the plaza, choral competitions leading up to the Fiesta on the 1st January.

MY RANGGO: And the Kalap Festival?

Mayor Arnan C. Panaligan: The Kalap Festival celebrates our Founding Day, so it is held every March 21. The first Kalap Festival was held in 2009.

There is a colorful, grand street parade and the floats reflect both the city’s history and culture.  They are designed to represent defining moments in Calapan’s history.

We also have a street party, Bangkathon, a job fair and Employee’s Day, Mini Olympics, Bulilit field demo and a fireworks display

MY RANGGO: Did Pandanggo sa Ilaw originate from Mindoro?

Mayor Arnan C. Panaligan: Yes, they call it Pandang Gitab or Festival of Lights. It is a combination of ‘pandanggo’ and ‘gitab’. It originates from way back when the men would come back from fishing around 3AM. Their wives or girlfriends would be waiting by the shore carrying lights and gasoline lights. That’s the derivation of it.

You can read more about Calapan and Oriental Mindoro’s many Festivals here

MY RANGGO: You have some famous names from Calapan

Mayor Arnan C. Panaligan: Yes. We have Néstor Vicente Madali González, an internationally acclaimed writer.

He has an affinity for Calapan and in fact, a lot of his works are set here. But actually, his work also centralizes around a town located in Southern Oriental Mindoro called Mansalay, where he was raised. A few years ago, when he was still alive, we gave him special recognition.  I would recommend all of his books, especially any set in Calapan

We also have Lt. Col. Pedro A. Serran (USAFFE-AFP). He is a renowned WWII war hero. He was born in Calapan in 1913. He is known as the “Liberator of Zarraga,” which is located in Iloilo Province. With his guerrilla fighters of the 62nd Regimental Combat Team, they were known as the “Iron Regiment”. Under his command they liberated not only Zarraga but also Janiuay, Jaro, and San Dionisio.

We have some memorabilia in our City Museum

MY RANGGO: Finally, what are your proudest achievements as Mayor of such a booming city?

Mayor Arnan C. Panaligan: Well, I believe I have set a developmental direction for the City of Calapan, and the plans of Oriental Mindoro.  I’m proud of that. Also, during my term I have built landmarks.

The City Hall was built during my term as City Mayor and it is a tourist attraction because of its design.  Other City Halls in the Philippines are like boxes, they have no real design; a typical government building. 

So when we built it, back in 1999-2000, I instructed the architects “we want a design. We want a building that can be used on postcards”.   And our City Hall has become a site for photos for tourists and visitors. Especially with the columns; it’s a great tourist attraction.

Motorists who are going to the South, they stop here to have their picture taken with City Hall in the background.  It is also a favorite spot for pre-nup photo-shoots.

Tourist Spots in and around Calapan and Oriental Mindoro:

  • Santo Niño Cathedral
  • Mangyan Heritage Center
  • Caluangan Lake
  • Harka Piloto Island (a great snorkel and dive site)
  • Jolly Waves Waterpark & Resort
  • Wakeboarding at Calapan Aqua Park
  • Silonay Mangrove Conservation Area and Ecotourism
  • Calapan Recreational and Zoological Park
  • Just travel along the road between Calapan to Victoria and you will see billboards directing visitors to different caves and waterfalls.
  • Alibatan Island, Baco is located near to Calapan.  It is famed for its white sand beaches, where gulls and turtles are in abundance. 
  • Baco Chico Island Beach
  • Aras Cave, Baco features a falls within the cave as well as stalactites. 
  • Mt Halcon, Baco is 2,582m’s high giving amazing views as far as Batangas and Marinduque on a clear day.  The trek trail offers rainforests and clear streams.
  • Naujan Lake National Park is the 5th largest lake in the Philippines, covering 21,655 hectares.  It is very popular with bird-watchers (or Twitchers) being an East Asian-Australasian Flyway for migratory birds, as well as a location of endemic and endangered species.  The lake also plays host to crocodiles and sail-finned lizards
  • Pinamalayan Beach, which offers boat trips over to Marinduque, Maestro de Ocampo and Banton Islands, Romblon.
  • Bongabong Town Beach
  • Boquete or San Antonio Island both offer great island hopping and snorkeling
  • Dangay Port, offers boat trips and RORO’s to Odiongan on Tablas Island, Romblon and Caticlan
  • Mansalay, Roxas is home to three tribes of the Mangyan (Hanunuo, Alangan and Tadywan)
  • Bulalacao Town, is an amazing area for snorklers and scuba divers, offering coves, reefs, beaches and corals.
  • Puerto Galera, white beaches, great snorkelling and diving.  It is located along the Verde Island Passage, said to be the “center of the center of marine biodiversity in the World”.  Whilst the rest of Oriental Mindoro is more about nature, quiet, solitude and relaxation Puerto Galera is the Party Island of the province. 

What do you think?

Written by Trudy Allen

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