As I See It

An island nearer and better than Boracay

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(Continued from Monday)

The two short stories that won in the Varsitarian literary contests were later published by This Week, the Sunday magazine of The Manila Chronicle. The Varsitarian prize money, plus the money paid to me by the magazines, paid for my tuition, books, and other expenses.

The next year, I took the examinations for applicants to the “V” editorial staff. I became the literary editor. This was where the “V” helped me a lot. Staff members were given scholarships, plus a monthly stipend. Mine was, I think, P30 a month. That will hardly buy a pack of cigarettes today, but at that time, it was enough to get by. Shows us how much inflation has eroded the value of the peso. The exchange rate then was P2 to $1; now it is down to more than P40 to $1.

As I gained more experience in the “V,” I wrote more stories and articles for the national magazines. The fees I was paid for them, plus the scholarships and monthly stipend paid by the “V,” in addition to the “V” prize moneys, were enough not only for my school needs but also to treat my barkada to mami-siopao at Ma Mon Luk whenever I had a story or article published.

Also because of my experience in the “V” and in the printing press, I was hired as literary editor of This Week. My barkada at the “V” and Philets at UST, namely, Juan T. Gatbonton (who was the “V” literary editor before me), Arnold Moss, Lito Molina and Amante Paredes (who were reporters of the “V”), were also hired to become associate editors of This Week.

This Week became the No. 1 magazine at that time, which is considered until today as “the golden age of magazine publishing.”

Another barkada and the “V” editor in chief, Ramon J. Lopez, was hired as a Chronicle reporter. In a series of stories, Lopez saved a young convict from the electric chair, literally in the nick of time—just a few hours before he was to be executed.

Those feats would not have been possible without the training, financial help, experience, and confidence that the “V” gave us, as well as the guidance of our professors. We owe everything to the “V” and to them.

* * *

There is an island with white-sand beaches, surrounded by azure seas, and much easier to get to than Boracay that the Department of Tourism has overlooked. It already has a world-class airport big enough for and capable of handling international jetliners, and has several resorts as well as many historical and tourist spots.

This is Guiuan, Samar. One of its outlying islands is Homonhon, where Ferdinand Magellan first landed on March 16, 1521. It has one of the oldest churches in the Philippines, the 16th-century Immaculate Conception Church. Part of the Battle of Leyte Gulf was fought near there.

Guiuan was a base of the US Allied Forces during the war. It was the Americans who built the airfield. And like the Clark airport, the Guiuan runway is first-class, better than the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Metro Manila. It has been spruced up and is ready for use any time by international and domestic airliners.

The trouble is that a member of the House of Representatives is blocking its opening. He wants another airport built in his district. But the Guiuan airport is already here, finished and ready for the jetliners, yet government agencies, particularly the DOT, either have forgotten it or are under the thumb of the lawmaker.

Boracay is difficult to get to. You have to take a plane to Caticlan, in Aklan, and a boat ride to Boracay, and, once you are there, find that it is as if you are back in Metro Manila. It is like a honky-tonk, very crowded, noisy with karaoke bars blaring raucous music, and drinks everywhere. What’s more, the people you hate to see in Manila are also there.

But Guiuan has its own airport. When you get off your plane, you are already there. The beaches are long, with shining white sand, lines of coconut palms dancing in the breeze, gentle waves, blue skies and blue seas.

Guiuan faces two bodies of water: the Pacific Ocean and the Leyte Gulf. It is inside a bay, which is why the Americans chose it as a base during the war. It has better anchorage for yachts and smaller boats than Boracay or Puerto Galera. It is exhilarating to watch the sunrise, sunset, and moonrise from its beaches.

Nearby is a long slender island, Calicoan, with 12 kilometers of untouched white sand in nine different beach areas. There are isolated coves and lagoons where you can be all alone with your loved one. There are caves to explore. There are tourist resorts in Guiuan that are first-class, serving the freshest seafoods anywhere: lobster, crab, grouper, blue marlin, tuna, abalone, sea cucumber, squid, octopus, etc. Take your sweetheart there this Valentine’s Day.

Calicoan Island is an ideal place not only for surfing but also for island-hopping, swimming, boating, diving, spelunking, jungle trekking, and rock and wall climbing. It is surrounded by virgin forests where you can watch wildlife.

Why is Calicoan better than Boracay? Besides having its own airport and therefore nearer, it is bigger than Boracay. It has 1,600 hectares to Boracay’s 1,024 hectares. Boracay has only one beach but Calicoan has two—one facing the Pacific Ocean and the other facing Leyte Gulf.

Guiuan has not escaped the attention of three previous Presidents. Ferdinand Marcos declared it a tourist zone and marine reserve, Fidel V. Ramos declared it a protected landscapes/seascapes zone, and Gloria Arroyo declared it a surfing tourism destination. President Aquino has yet to notice it.

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