Mountain Ranges, River Systems, and Volcanoes of the Philippines

Mountain Ranges, River Systems

and Volcanoes of  the Philippines

By Apolinario Villalobos

For the Filipinos, it is important to have a bird’s eye view of their country for better understanding and appreciation. For the foreigners, it is equally important, so that they will have an idea why the Philippines is called, Emerald Isles of the Pacific, Pearl of the Orient Seas, Land of the Rising Sun, etc.

For one thing, the archipelagic country is composed of more than 7,000 islands and islets, depending on the tide. The irregular coastline is about 10,850 statute miles. The Philippine Deep located 40 miles northeast of Mindanao is the deepest ocean depth at 37,782 feet, which is deeper than Marianas Deep which measures 36,640 feet. Volcanic in origin, the total land surface is 114, 830 square miles. The country is divided into main groups such as, Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

Luzon:

Luzon is the northern chunk of the archipelago with Batanes as its northernmost province. The mountain ranges that dominate the Central Plains are: Caraballo del Sur, with the apex located between Abra, Ilocos Norte, and Cagayan. The Caraballo  Occidental is divided into the northern and central, traversing the western area of the Cagayan River. The Sierra Madre which is known in some history books as Pacific Coast Range originates from Baler and covers Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya and Cagayan, making it the longest range in the Philippines. The eastern and southeastern mountain ranges, meanwhile, starts from Caraballo de Baler to San Bernardino Strait, and ends in Mayon volcano in Albay and Bulusan volcano in Sorsogon, both of the Bicol region in the southern tip of Luzon mainland.

The mountain range that begins at Tagaytay, passes through the rest of the province of Cavite, onward through Batangas, ending in Mt. Makiling. Meanwhile, the Zambales range, begins at Cape Bolinao, running along the China coast up to the Bataan peninsula. On the island of Mindoro, the sierra range starts at Mt. Halcon, forking into three, with the northwest ending at Calavite Point which for centuries has been used as a landmark of mariners that cruise through Manila Bay and Mindoro Strait, the eastern fork from Naujan Lake, and the western fork that follows the Mindoro Strait

The river systems of Luzon are: Rio Grande de Cagayan and its tributaries that flow towards Cagayan Valley: the Agno Grande that flows to Benguet and the valleys of Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan, and Tarlac; the Abra River while serving as the catch basin of tributaries from the Cordillera, flows to Lepanto, Bontoc and  Abra; and, the Rio  Grande de Pampanga and its tributaries that flow towards the valleys of Nueva Ecija, Pampanga and Bulacan.

Other river systems are: Magat River flows across Isabela and Nueva Ecija with tributaries flowing from the Mountain Province to Pangasinan, Nueva Ecija, and Tarlac; Laoag River in Ilocos Norte; Abra River in Abra; Tinig River, Amburayan River, and Chico River in Mountain Province; Tarlac River; Angat River in Bulacan; Marikina River and Pasig River in Metro Manila; Pagsanjan River in Laguna; Maragondon River in Cavite; Tayabas River in Quezon; Labo River in Sorsogon; Pitogo River in Occidental Mindoro; Boac and Mogpog rivers in Marinduque; and, the most famous, Underground River in Palawan.

The volcanoes of Luzon are Mt. Iraya in Batanes, Taal in Batangas, Banahaw in Quezon, Mt. Bulusan in Sorsogon, and Mayon in Albay. Mt. Mayon has erupted more than 30 times since 1615; Taal, the smallest volcano in the world has erupted about 30 times, as well, with the most destructive in January 30, 1911 which killed more than 1,300 people, and its last eruption occurred in September 3, 1976.

VISAYAS:

Negros island is partitioned by a mountain range with northwest to southwest orientation with the protrusion of Mt. Kanlaon as the highest, and the rest are:  Mt. Razor, Mt. Silay Mandalague, and Mt. Malapantao. Panay Island has a north to south orientation of a mountain range that separates Iloilo, Aklan and Capiz provinces from Antique, and with Mt. Madjaas as the highest peak, with the rest: Mt. Agudo, Mt. Lantuan, Caniapasan, Mt. Malinao, Mt. Nangtud, Mt. Nausang, and Mt. Usigan.

The river systems of Visayas are: Panay River in Pan-ay, Sibalom River in Antique, Suaque River in Iloilo, Bago River in Negros Occidental, Mabanga River in Bohol, Ulut and Catubig rivers in Samar.

MINDANAO:

The four mountain ranges of Mindanao are: Surigao mountain range that follows the outline of the Pacific coas; Butuan range that serves as the water shed of the Agusan River on the east, and Pulangui river on the west; the Mt. Apo range located in the central and western portion of the island; and the western range, from Iligan Bay up to the shores of Basilan Strait. In Lanao, north of Mt. Iniaoan is Mt. Catmon, while south of Lake Lanao is Mt. Butlig. Separating Cotabato and Lanao are Mt. Maraturang and Ragang volcanoes. Other mountains in Cotabato are Mt. Dinaca, Mt. Bulik, Mt. Magolo and Mt. Matutum. In Bukidnon, the two highest peaks are Mt. Kintanglad west of Malaybalay, and Mt. Kalatungan. Aside from Mt. Apo, another active volcano in Mindanao is Mt. Makaturing in Lanao.

The Rio Grande de Mindanao, fed by the outflows of two lakes, and the largest river system in the Philippines flows to the central plain of Mindanao. The Agusan River which is the second biggest, next to Rio Grande de Mindanao, flows to the basin of Surigao. Other rivers in Mindanao are: Buluan River in Maguindanao, Kapingkong River in Sultan Kudarat, Dansalan River in Cotabato, and Clarin River in Misamis Occidental. Ligwasan marsh occupies a vast tract of area in Cotabato to which some water of the Rio Grande de Mindanao also flows.

Lately, the Philippines has become a favorite mountaineering destination of trekking enthusiasts from other countries, and whose number swelled that of the locals composed of professional bloggers, students and young professionals. Among the most popular are:  Mt Iraya in Batanes, Mt. Dos Cuernos in Cagayan, Mt. Pulog in Benguet, Mt. Halcon in Mindoro, Mt. Cristobal and Mt. Banahaw in Quezon, and Mt. Makiling in Laguna; Mt. Madja-as in Antique; Mt. Guiting-guiting in Sibuyan (Romblon); Mt. Manunggal in Cebu; Mt. Kanlaon in Negros; Mt. Apo in Davao, Mt. Hibok-hibok in Camiguin, Mt. Kitanglad in Malaybalay, and  Mt. Matutum in South Cotabato. I know that more mountains, though not impressive in height but equally challenging, are just waiting to be explored, aside from what I have mentioned.

It is fascinating to know that outdoor sports bloggers do their share in promoting the sport to boost the tourism industry of the Philippines, by posting their discovered peaks as they trek around the country. Browsers need only to use the tags: “Philippine mountains”, “Philippine mountaineering”, “Philippine trekking”, and “Philippine tourism” to access their sites.

Hospitality…essence of Philippine Tourism

Hospitality

…essence of Philippine Tourism

By Apolinario Villalobos

 

Big cities in the Philippines have sufficient rooms for tourists, provided by lodging inns and multiple star hotels. But this is not so for towns and villages that are visited by tourists during the summer months which are the season for fiestas, and even year-round for some, as in the case of destinations that boast of natural attractions such as mountains, caves, swift white rivers, as well as, indigenous flora and fauna.

 

During the ‘70s which was the peak of tourist promotion effort of Philippine Airlines through its Tours and Promotions Division of Marketing and Sales-Philippines (MSP), the “hospitality home” was conceived by the think tank group of Vic Bernardino who heads the said division. The concept which was integrated in the PALakbayan Tour Program was supported by the late, Mr. Ricardo Paloma, the then, Regional Vice-President of MSP. The concept was laid down for appreciation and implementation of local governments which extended their full support. Along with this concept was also the promotion of the “backyard tourism”. To differentiate it from commercialized tourism, the “backyard tourism” was the small-scale tourism-related business that far-flung towns and villages operated in line with the Department of Tourism’s effort to drum up the attractions of the country.

 

Among the popular destinations that overflowed with tourists during festival season then, were Marinduque with its Moriones Festival, Kalibo with its original Ati-Atihan Festival, and Bukidnon with its Kaamulan Festival. Due to the limited commercial lodging facilities, pre-chosen local families were asked to host visitors for certain fees that varied according to their facilities and offered meals. Nowadays, sufficient lodging facilities have been built by local governments to accommodate visitors.

 

The tourism industry of the Philippines, did not start with big hotels. The industry started from scratch, so to speak. The hospitality home type of accommodation in the provinces supported the influx of foreign tourists in Manila, Cebu and Davao, as the hordes were desirous to see and experience more of the country. The PALakbayan Tour Program of the national flag carrier, PAL, through its Tours and Promotions Office successfully distributed tourists throughout the country. This is how the St. Paul Subterranean Park of Palawan, now known as Underground River of Puerto Princesa, the “dragons” of Caramoan peninsula in Bicol, the Chocolate Hills of Bohol, the enticing waves of the Quezon Province and Camarines Sur, Mt. Apo of Davao, Mt. Mayon of Albay, Mt. Hibok-Hibok of Camiguin, Mt. Pulog of Benguet, Mt. Kanlaon of Negros, to name a few of the mountains, Sicogon Island, the beaches of Cebu, Tubbataha Reef of Palawan and other dive sites in Mindoro, Cebu, Dumaguete, Davao, the Philippine Eagle, and later, the now world-renown Boracay….became essential features of international travel brochures and magazines..

 

It was a hectic period of promotional effort for the Bernardino group which reaped good results. Those who sacrificed much of their time were Edgar Buensuceso who handled the cave explorations and researches on the Philippine flora and fauna for promotion to nature lovers of Europe, Australia and Japan, as well as, the promotion of awareness on the Philippine Eagle; John Fortes who handled the mountain climbing activities; and Julio Luz, Jr. and Thelma Villaseῆor, who organized dive expeditions. Edgar Buensuceso can also be credited for the development of birdwatching as a popular naturist activity in the country. John Fortes on the other hand, did much in organizing the different mountaineering organizations in the Philippines into the National Federation of the Philippines. During mountain climbs, the diminutive Joe Cobilla, a famous outdoor photographer of the Department of Tourism was always part of the groups to document every detail of the treks. The photos of Mr. Cobilla graced the pages of many travel brochures and magazines here and abroad which further boasted the concerted effort of the national government and PAL in promoting tourism.

 

Tourism industry is the only hope of the government in earning the much-needed revenue to bolster the economy of the country. Agriculture is out of the question, as the agencies involved are inutile in making the country rice sufficient, despite the presence of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Laguna, Asia’s cradle of knowledge for rice technology. Even the onions and garlic are imported from China, Taiwan and Thailand. The high technology is likewise out, as the country has become the receiving end for sub-standard gadgets from China. Cheap and competitive, but unfortunately seasonal labor cannot be relied on, as the meager take home pay of workers has no buying strength. The exported labor is likewise threatened due to unrests at host countries which drastically affects dollar remittance.

 

In pursuing the advocacy of tourism, cooperation is necessary – among the residents, as well as, the local and the national governments. And, finally, the accommodation and transport components of the industry play an important role as they must be consistent in satisfactorily serving the needs of the tourists who now include local travelers. The Filipinos showed that with their innate hospitality, both foreign and local tourists can have fun around the country. Thanks to the Filipino hospitality as it has bolstered the tourism industry that has overshadowed the badly smeared image of the government due to prevalent corruption in practically, all its branches.

The Forgotten Role of Philippine Airlines (PAL) in Air Travel and Tourism Development in the Philippines

The Forgotten Role of Philippine Airlines (PAL)

In Air Travel and Tourism Development in the Philippines

By Apolinario Villalobos

 

When I joined the Marketing and Sales Department of Phippine Airlines in 1975, its Public Relations Office (currently, Corporate Communications) was already actively conducting air travel familiarization tours for groups, particularly, students and civic organizations. The groups were shown the airline’s facilities at the airport (the old Domestic airport), especially, the interior of the aircrafts which at that time were DC-3, HS748, YS11, and later, BAC1-11. Fare discounts were given to frequently traveling groups and individuals. The ulterior motive here was to educate the public about the advantages, especially, the comfort of air travel.

 

The Tours and Promotions-Philippines (TPP) headed by Vic Bernardino as manager, regularly conducted surveys, practically, throughout the Philippines – from Batanes to Tawi-tawi, to gather information on their touristic attractions, and other information that could lure travelers. The airline was then servicing Tawi-tawi and Sulu, via Zamboanga, while Batanes had straight flights from Manila and on other days, via Tuguegarao. The hubs of air travel were Manila for Luzon provinces, Cebu for Visayas and some Mindanao provinces, and Davao for the rest of Mindanao provinces. The Tours and Promotions-Philippines printed and distributed a regularly updated Philippine hotel directory, and the bi-monthly TOPIC Magazine which contained information on touristic destinations, hotels, resorts, festivals, and outdoor sports, such as diving, mountain climbing, spelunking (cave exploration), trekking and birdwatching. The hotel directory and magazine were distributed among schools, hotels, organizations, embassies and consulates.

 

The Tours and Promotions-Philippines office also conceived and developed an encompassing tour program that practically covered all facets of travel – educational, convention and seminar, outdoor sports, and charter. The travel market was segmented into sectors to identify their specific needs and requirements. This was called the PALakbayan Tour Program. Coordination within the marketing and sales departments of the airline was closely knit, so that a mere phone inquiries on destinations, be they serviced by PAL or not was quickly satisfied. The staff of Tours and Promotions office were all adept about travel within the Philippines so that they were regularly requested as resource speakers in tourism forums and seminars. For free, they also helped tour and convention/seminar organizers in coming up with realistic packages that their clients could afford.

 

The The TPP, through its Representative, John Fortes, organized the PAL Mountaineering Club which promoted and developed the sport in the country. To encourage mountaineering, he organized summer climbs to well-known mountains in the country, such as, Mt. Apo (between Davao and Cotabato), Mt. Hibok-Hibok (Camiguin), Mt. Madja-as (Antique), Mt. Pulog (Benguet), Mt. Mayon (Albay), Mt. Dos Cuernos (Tuguegarao),  Mt. Kanlaon (Negros Occ.). Treks were organized for Mt. Banahaw, Mt. Makiling, and Taal. With the increasing mountaineering clubs in campuses and provinces, Mr. Fortes initiated the formation of the National Mountaineering Federation of the Philippines (NMFP).  Simultaneously, Jun Luz, another TPP Representative handled the promotion of diving programs around the country. He was in touch with the different dive operators and groups in other countries to promote the dive sites that later graced the pages of international travel magazines and dive brochures.

 

On the other hand, Ed Buensuceso, section supervisor of TPP developed birdwatching areas around the country, an effort which brought to fore the plight of the Philippine Eagle, known before as monkety-eating eagle. He was a member of the scientific team from the United States that documented the life of the eagles, from their airborne mating to breeding. The first documentary was printed in National Geographic Magazine. Ed Buensuceso was also instrumental in the first survey of the Puerto Princesa Underground River conducted by an Australian environmentalist group. As an important information, the underground river is originally attributed to Palawan province, not Puerto Princesa city, hence, its original name was St. Paul Sub-terranean Park of Palawan. The effort of Mr. Buensuceso in developing Palawan as a tourist destination was extended to the Batak tribe which for long was not known among the rest of the Filipinos. He also spearheaded surveys of off-the-beaten-track destinations that brought to light the hidden touristc treasures of Caramoan peninsula in Bicol, the corals around the islets of Mindoro, Dumaguete and the now-famous Tubbataha Reef. The big waves of Siargao, Surigao, Aurora, and southern portion of Bicol were already captured in slides when Ed Buensuceso surveyed them for promotion in other countries whose tourists were interested in outdoor activities.

 

During the Marcos administration, there was a great demand for hotel rooms because Manila and other major cities in the provinces were peaking up as convention destinations in Asia. It was during this time that the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) was built together with the rest of the facilities within the Cultural Center of the Philippines complex, that included Cultural Center of the Philippines, Folk Arts Theater, Philtrade, and Film Center. The TPP of PAL on its part, actively worked with convention organizers to help them with their packages that included airfare discount and representation with provincial hotels for group discounts. Student groups were flown to provinces for educational tours, as well as,  international groups that were regularly flown in by PAL and other airlines. Tie-ups were made with shipping lines and bus companies for tour packages, and of course, hotels at destinations.

 

Later on, the PALakbayan tour program gave birth to “illegitimate” tour programs developed by other tourism agencies. Unfortunately, the copycats failed to bring to life the essence of the program which is founded on the “total care” of customers, specifically, the “Total Passenger Care”. By “ total”, the airline even took care of the traveller’s other needs that do not concern its direct service, such as onward booking until the day of his departure, referral to other agencies, and giving of necessary information at destination, such as things that can be done on his own.

 

Every time, the TPP staff had a chance to speak to local government officials, the latter were encouraged to organize their own “local tourism office”, to handle what we called “backyard tourism”, or local small-scale tourism business in line with the eco-tourism concept. The Department of Tourism during that time, was aware of this effort. It was explained to them that having DOT field offices in major cities was not enough. There was yet, the need to fully coordinate with local government units in the implementation or promotion of programs. PAL already recognized this need that is why its station supervisors and managers were mandated to be closely in touch with local officials, even those located far from PAL stations. Also, practically, the staff in all domestic stations played important roles as coordinators to prevent hitches, especially, in the handling of groups.

 

The energetic promotion of tourism from the end of PAL came from Mr. Ricardo Paloma, Regional Vice-President/Philippines and Guam, who initiated efforts in touching base with the Department of Tourism (DOT) and government agencies concerned about environment conservation. Practically, the DOT involved the airline in all its touristic ventures. On the other hand, the airline furnished the DOT with all the input that the staff of the TPP gathered from their surveys. Mr. Paloma conceptualized the “eco-tourism” which is the basis of the government in the promotion of local tourism today. There was much effort in preserving the laid back image of the country as a touristic destination in Asia. That early, the “tourism think tank” of PAL was apprehensive about the destruction of the natural endowments of dive spots and mountains, as are happening now. The once pristine Boracay island is now a sorry site with no reliable waste disposal system, the mountains become garbage dumps after climbs, coral “gardens” are littered with plastic bottles, etc.

 

Today, tourism industry in the country is kicking high. The unsung PALers  who did their part as conceptualizers, coordinators, guides, resource speakers, and who formed the early family of Philippine Airlines could just smile and utter a silent thank that the country’s flag carrier is still flying…and, at last, the less beaten tracks towards the hidden gems of the country are now heavily trodden by sneakers and mountaineering boots of eager tourists…