Today's Punto
Today's Punto
Boom awanting
By Bong Lacson

Mar 06, 2018

CORON. BORACAY. Davao. Tagbilaran. Basco. Balesin.

Philippine Airlines has narrowed the distance between Clark and the country’s top tourist draws. As well as the major cities of Naga, Bacolod and Cagayan de Oro, themselves tourist spots, Virac and Masbate too.

So, did Philippines AirAsia with Kalibo, Iloilo, Puerto Princesa and Tacloban.

And Clark’s mainstay for the longest time Cebu Pacific lording it over the queen city of the South.

So, what is there not to be happy about?

Yeah, it’s all looking up from Clark. Not only outbound, but more importantly inbound as well. Especially where concerned the international destinations of Dubai, Qatar, Incheon, Busan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, Pudong, and starting March 27, Osaka by JetStar.

In 2016, over 3.5 million foreign and domestic tourists visited Central Luzon, Clark and Subic primarily, reported then-tourism director Ronnie Tiotuico. That, he said, catapulted Central Luzon to No. 5 among the most visited regions in the whole country.

With the tremendous increase in Clark flights, we can only expect a greater surge, maybe even a tsunami, of tourists. So confidently projected the tourism guy who served all presidents from Ferdinand Marcos to Rodrigo Duterte, until his retirement in July last year. Ronnie’s greatest claim to fame is being among the brain trust of the Clark hot air balloon festival in 1994 and initiating the Mt. Pinatubo treks.

Great expectations though don’t happen in real time all by their lonesome.

While much stride – concrete and positive – has been taken in the development of the tourism industry hereabouts, much still remains to be done, Tiotuico himself admitted. Something, some place got to register in the tourism radar other than Clark. Most particularly in Pampanga, and by extension, the whole of Central Luzon.

As things go now, events take precedence over sites as primary tourist attractions in the province.

Think here of the gloriest – the Giant Lantern Festival at Christmas time, and the goriest – the crucifixions on Good Friday, both in the City of San Fernando.

Before its hiatus of four years now, the Ibon-Ebon Festival in February really drew crowds to somnolent Candaba. Its hoped-for revival with a new mayor has yet to be realized though.

On New Year’s Day, Minalin has its Aguman Sanduk of men in women’s garb, make-up, lipstick, heels and all. And in January too, Sasmuan holds its Kuraldal, the faithful in ecstatic trance-like procession amid firetruckinduced showers.

Just about every town has its signature fest – some intermittent others regular – like Sto. Tomas’ Sabuaga on Easter Sunday, Bacolor’s Makatapak in November, Mexico’s Mais, Mabalacat City’s Caragan in February, Sta. Rita’s Duman in December, Luabo’s Sampaguita in May, Porac’s Binulo in November, and Angeles City’s Tigtigan Terakan Keng Dalan in October.

Apalit has its fluvial festival in honor of its patron, St. Peter on his feast day in June. Then there is the week-long Sinukuan in December open to all municipalities in the province.

The tourist becomes the pilgrim – or is it the other way around? – with Pampanga’s “churches of antiquity.” Foremost of these are the Sta. Monica Parish Church in Minalin and the St. James the Apostle Parish Church in Betis, Guagua that have been declared by the National Museum as National Cultural Treasures.

The other heritage churches are the Holy Rosary in Angeles City; Sta. Lucia in Sasmuan; Sta. Rita in Sta. Rita; the lahar-buried San Guillermo in Bacolor; San Luis Gonzaga in San Luis; St. Peter the Apostle in Apalit; San Bartolome in Magalang; and the Metropolitan Cathedral in the City of San Fernando.

These churches invariably become SRO during the Lenten Season, in pursuit of the visita iglesia rites. But left solely to the parishioners the rest of the year.

Then, there is food, glorious food. Pampanga prides itself as the culinary capital of the Philippines. There’s just some ingredient in the Kapampangan food that distinguishes it from any other in the country, be it from the Spanish heirloom recipes for morcon and galantina to the exotic adobong camaru, betute, sisig and binulo to the ambrosiac buro.

The culinary tours – usually of Everybody’s Café, Atching Lilian Borromeo’s house, Abe’s Farm and Claude Tayag’s Bale Dutung – that celebrate the best of Kapampangan cuisine, sadly, have not gone into the tourism mainstream.

While eco-tourism has remained at its infancy here, its potentials are great. Nabuclod in the highlands of Floridablanca with its zip line, and the magnificent view all-around. The wetlands of Candaba for bird watching. Gintong Pakpak at the foot of majestic Mount Arayat. Miyamit Falls in Porac. Haduan Falls in Mabalacat City. Puning Hot Springs in Sapang Bato, Angeles City.

Pampanga’s got the sites, sights, even smell, tastes and sounds. All that’s needed is a little combining of all that it has into one neat package as year-round, rather than seasonal, go-to spot.

With all these flights at the Clark airport, such a pity if the boost awaiting tourism in Pampanga – and in Central Luzon – remains but a boom awanting.

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