By Kaye Estoista-Koo
MIMAROPA is a region made up of five provinces that decided to come together because they wanted to stop being known as the poorer relations to another region (they used to be 4-B and 4-A was more popular). They wanted to get out of the shadows of Region 4-A and make a name for themselves.
By far, the five—Oriental Mindoro, Occidental Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, and Palawan—have achieved that, becoming the food basket of not only Luzon but the whole Philippines.
When there was rice shortage in Mindanao, the region’s farmers stepped in to provide rice. The region has also become the number one salt producer in the Philippines, providing 47 percent of the nation’s requirement.
To celebrate their unity and regional identity, the MIMAROPA Festival was established in 2015 by the five governors of the region who envisioned a platform where they could showcase each province’s natural resources, attractions, cultures, and traditions. The first in Calapan City, Oriental Mindoro was followed by Puerto Princesa City, Palawan in 2016, then Odiongan, Romblon in 2017.
“It is an honor for our province to host the fourth festival, because when we talked about this before, our desire was to see the MIMAROPA Festival brought to each city in our region every year,” says Occidental Mindoro governor Mario Gene Mendiola, “If I am not mistaken, we are the only regional festival in the whole Philippines. Only here.”
This 2018, the MIMAROPA Festival was held in the provincial capital of Mamburao, Occidental Mindoro, on the heels of their 2018 Arawatan Festival. The San Jose, Oriental Mindoro airport, three hours away, is the closest air travel option from Manila.
As the hosts, Mamburao organized major MIMAROPA-related activities, like the Grand Street Dance Parade Competition, the Agri-Trade and Tourism Fair, Ginoo and Binibining MIMAROPA 2018, and the Tourism Night.
The Grand Street Dance Parade Competition featured six delegations of nearly 200 persons each, hailing from Oriental Mindoro, Romblon, Occidental Mindoro, Calapan City, Palawan, and Puerto Princesa. It is a colorful and amazing sight to behold as each contingent dances a distance of 1.8 km, starting at Mamburao Municipal Plaza and ending at the Provincial Capitol Plaza.
In order to see the performances, which include impressive tableau set-ups, each contingent stops in two staging areas along Mamburao’s major thoroughfare. While many from the province and region come for the three days of activities, year on year, the MIMAROPA organizers are seeing an upswing in tourist arrivals from outside the region, as well. For now, they are still establishing a more unified way of collecting data, considering the many ways of entry into each of the provinces (land, air, and sea).
“We would like to address first the local because there’s a market in domestic tourism and once we have improved and we’re really building on it, it will become international tourists,” Occidental Mindoro congresswoman Josephine Ramirez-Sato believes.
MIMAROPA does not only have nice tourist destinations, we are blessed with a lot of natural resources and the natural hospitality of our people. We wish to be heroes of our time, contributing to the economy of our nation.
PA festival a tourist-drawing affair, everyone also recognizes the need for better transportation to each province from major cities in the country and the connectivity of traveling within the MIMAROPA region.
Cong. Sato adds, “Actually there is a plan which was hatched a few years ago to have this sort of a cruise ship that will stop in all provinces. This will not be a big one, the medium size ones.
For now, they’re still finalizing, but it will connect the provinces of MIMAROPA.”
Imagine a more direct access to each of the tourist destinations in MIMAROPA—from Apo Reef, the world’s second largest reef, and San Jose Island in Occidental Mindoro, to Mount Halcon and Puerto Galera in Oriental Mindoro, the Nausa Beach of Carabao Island and Ngiriton Cave in Romblon, the Maniwaya White Sand Beach and Bagumbungan Cave in Marinduque, or the Puerto Princesa Underground River, Coron-Busuanga Islands, and Tubbataha Reefs in Palawan.
As a simple example, Romblon, the hosts of the third MIMAROPA Festival, are working with DPWH specifically on Carabao Island to widen their highway in preparation for developments to come. This island has unexplored caves, unspoiled beaches with powdery white sand just like Boracay, 15 minutes away.
The region is aware of the need to work on its infrastructure even as they slowly start to promote various tourist destinations. “We would want to attract the right kind of tourists and we would like to offer the right kind of tourism to our visitors so we have mapped out and planned out our tourism plans and programs,” Cong. Sato explains.
Last year’s hosts saw its hotels and accommodations booked to full capacity. As the MIMAROPA Festival gains traction each year, the various provinces are gearing up as well. Cong. Sato says that aside from big hotels and small hotels, they are preparing their people for homestay options, effectively giving livelihood options and allowing locals to become guides of their home turf.
Another way to help drive tourists in are the products that people can bring home and sample. The Agri-Trade and Tourism Fair allows small and medium-sized businesses to feature a variety of their products. In fact, Marinduque did not expect their wares to suddenly be snapped up by day three of the fair.
The almerez (Spanish for marble) from Romblon, pearl products from Puerto Princesa, cashew nuts and dried fish from Palawan, bamboo and rattan woven products made by indigenous women weavers also in Palawan, Mangyan-beaded products and the cheesy cake bar from Occidental Mindoro, or the coco jam, oyster mushroom snacks, and organic juices—they all serve to market the region as ambassadors of their provinces.
In fact, agritourism is a viable option, with Occidental Mindoro becoming the second or third largest rice producer and the region being number one in salt production. Also, the tamaraw or water buffalo is the province’s most recognizable icon but it is now a critically endangered species with only 523 found in Mt. Iglit-Basco National Park.
The MIMAROPA Festival has shown that the five provinces can be united in spirit, over and above the diversity of beliefs, culture, and aspirations.
Cong. Sato adds, “It fosters unity and camaraderie, even among the young people, there is that sense of pride for the region which we never felt before.”
With Marinduque playing next year’s hosts, she hopes only that it will be better still. “We build on the experiences of the past, so yes, definitely, it will be better than this year as they learn from the experience,” she says.
This week, DOT MIMAROPA launched their marketing website as a way to help promote the provinces by providing a list of things to do, see, and eat in each of the provinces.
Cong. Sato remarks, “We are now, especially Palawan, Puerto Princesa, Oriental Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, even Occidental, we have become the destination of choice. MIMAROPA does not only have nice tourist destinations, we are blessed with a lot of natural resources and the natural hospitality of our people.
We wish to be heroes of our time, contributing to the economy of our nation, as the backbone of our economy is agriculture, strongest in the region of MIMAROPA.”
The MIMAROPA Festival is held yearly come November. On your next vacation leave, consider a trip to a region that gives you a mix of cultural heritage, virgin nature destinations, pristine beaches, exciting caves and thrilling mountain trails. Careful, you might find yourself falling in love with MIMAROPA.