Story and photos by Bernard L Supetran / Special to the BusinessMirror
AFTER five years of a judicial tug-of-war on its cityhood status, the city of Baybay in Leyte has emerged as an urban powerhouse in the Eastern Visayas region.
The biggest municipality of the province, it was proclaimed a component city on June 15, 2007, by virtue of Republic Act (RA) 9389 authored by then Rep. Carmen Cari.
It was reverted into a municipality twice due to protests, but its cityhood was finally affirmed by the Supreme Court in 2011.
But all throughout this political roller-coaster, it has been quietly making a name as a center for commerce, education and tourism in the province’s Fifth District.
Dubbed “The City of Beauty, Serenity and Discovery,” it may not be the usual recreational sight-seeing spot, but a unique blend of rural allure and a dash of urban living.
Specifically, Baybay is gaining popularity for faith, farm and eco-tourism—three new sectors of the industry that the Department of Tourism (DOT) is developing because of their growing niche.
BAYBAY is the home to the Diocesan Shrine of San Antonio de Padua, which draws pilgrims to venerate the century-old image of the saint believed to be miraculous.
Located in the coastal barangay of Pomponan, Catholic faithful from all over the country pay homage to the saint every 13th day of the month, in an act of devotion that starts the day before. A liturgical dance called sirong is performed during the patronal feast on June 13, which incidentally falls two days before the cityhood day.
The church receives over 300,000 devotees annually and ranks as the top cultural attraction in the region. This figure is part of the more than 647,045 day visitors who visit Baybay, the highest in Eastern Visayas based on data from DOT 8.
Another religious attraction is the Baybay parish church, an example of a baroque structure started in 1852 by Spanish friar Vicente Cronado and continued by Maestro Proceso. The town became a parish earlier on September 8, 1835, with the invocation of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception as patron.
Gutted by fire in 1866, except for the Holy Cross Chapel, the church was completed in 1870 as renowned sculptor and painter Capitan Mateo Espinoso applied the finishing touches to lend magnificence to the house of worship.
The church is in the heart of the “heritage lane” composed of well-preserved Spanish and American-era ancestral houses, which will transport visitors back in time as they visit these living museums.
The parish celebrates the Our Lady of Immaculate Conception patronal feast on December 27, while the city government has incepted the Binaybayon Festival to showcase the city’s origins, rich cultural heritage and its way of life, which includes fishing and farming.
LONG before RA 10816 (Farm Tourism Development Act 2016) was enacted, Baybay has been showcasing its agriculture potentials.
This is thanks to the presence of the Visayas State University which has been in the forefront of agricultural education and research and development. Formerly known as the Visayas State College of Agriculture, it has been sowing the seeds of farm tourism for decades in this part of the archipelago with its vast gardens, demo farms and fertile plots.
Sandwiched by the undulating Pangasugan mountain ranges and the scenic Camotes Sea, this resort university is 1,479 hectares of greenery, and houses agencies, such as the National Abaca Research Center, National Coconut Research Center-Visayas and the Philippine Root Crops Research and Training Center, among others.
This expansive campus is conducive to learning for its back-to-nature atmosphere and greenery, which will bring out the proverbial green thumb in every student or visitor.
Baybay also boasts of its 13,820-hectare coconut plantation, the biggest in Eastern Visayas, luring big agro-industries, such as SC Global Coco Products Inc. and SC Global Food Products Inc., the world’s largest producer of organic coconut oil.
The city is also host to Ching Bee Trading Corp., the world’s biggest traders of abaca fiber, and Specialty Pulp Manufacturing Inc., Asia’s biggest abaca-pulp mill.
These factories, also the city’s top taxpayers, form the core of a specialized industrial-tourism circuit for bench-marking of best practices and technologies.
BAYBAY has the longest coastline in Leyte. It coined its name from a local word that means “beach.” Among its top tourist draws are its cozy coasts, dissected by rivers and streams emanating from the Pangasugan mountains, with their remarkable flora and fauna
The wind-swept Lintaon Peak, the city’s highest point, affords guests a commanding view of the city, Camotes Sea and islands across the channel. As part of its 10th cityhood day, Baybay opened last June the new Blossoms Park adorned by 16,000 LED lights that light up the mountain at night.
The park is comprised of white and red roses embedded in the grassy meadow forming the phrase “I Love Baybay.”
Mayor Cari said the park is part of the city’s tourism-development plan, which will transform the area into the Lintaon Ecotourism Zone, which will have an information center, a view deck,a pavilion, picnic areas and other tourist facilities.
A tall image of the city’s patron saint Immaculate Conception will also be erected to make it a pilgrimage site due to its proximity to the San Antonio de Padua Shrine.
Cari said the project will be endorsed to the Regional Development Council to make the site a regional attraction to boost its tourism potentials.
CARI said 2017 was a banner year for the city, as it bagged the Seal of Good Local Governance Award from the Department of the Interior and Local Government for its excellence in financial administration, disaster preparedness, social protection and peace and order. Baybay was also given the coveted award in 2015.
It was also granted by the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) P2 million worth of fishing boats and fishing paraphernalia as part of the agency’s Coastal Resources and Fishery Management Office.
Baybay is the only local government unit in Leyte included in BFAR’s Top 100 Boat Registration Program’s Best Performing Cities and Municipalities, which aims at fast-tracking the nationwide registration of municipal fishing vessels with 3 gross tonnage and below, and fishing gear.
Also opened last year were the Baybay City Medical Diagnostic and Dialysis Center, thanks to the efforts of Fifth District Rep. Jose Carlos Cari, and the Private-Public Mix Directly Observed Treatment Scheme.
As a rapidly growing city, Baybay broke ground for a more spacious City Hall at a hilltop barangay last December 8 so it can deliver social services more efficiently. Designed by Architect Danny Fuentebella of Tacloban City, the new imposing building will rise in a 1.4-hectare center, which will also house the Sangguniang Panglungsod (City Council) and various national government offices.
Expected to be finished early next year, the P457-million new city hall will be funded with loans from the Development Bank of the Philippines and the Land Bank of the Philippines.
With its natural charm, promising economy and a growing tourism sector, local folks say visitors have a hard time saying “bye, bye” to Baybay.
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