Vamos a Zamboanga! A Balikbayan’s Compoblano’s Perspective of his Native CIty

Mar 11, 2013


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I was recently afforded a unique experience that allowed me to look back at my native city 32 years ago and compare it with how it’s changed since then.


Plaza Pershing and Rizal Shrine after Liberation - Courtesy of Zamboanga de Antes


Thanks to the Department of Tourism and Cebu Pacific, I joined a media delegation from Cagayan de Oro on a two-day tour of La Cuidad de las Flores, now rebranded as “Ciudad Latina de Asia or Asia’s Latin City.”


There were six journalists in our party: Orwin Austria (Mindanao Gold Star Daily), Nicole Managbanag (Sun Star Cagayan de Oro), reporter Joey Yecyec and cameraman Val Martinito (ABS-CBN Cagayan de Oro) and publisher Dante Sudaria and myself from the BWM Group of Publications (BusinessWeek Mindanao, Mindanao Daily News, Mindanao Star, The Cagayan de Oro Times and BWM Magazine).


We were accompanied by Jojo Roque, Yoyong Esmedalla and Nancy Derequito from DOT in Region X. Unfortunately, Cagayan de Oro Tourism Officer Imma Rae Gatuslao was not able to make it due to red tape.


We had to get up at 3AM even if our flight was still 6:15AM since we had to come together at the DOT X office then be at the Lumbia Airport by 5AM to avoid being bumped off. The ATR 72-500 was fully booked so it was a good idea to come early and have an early snack at the DOT’s VIP Lounge courtesy of Carl Maglangit and Arian Sim.


After a slight delay and a quite bumpy landing at the Zamboanga International Airport, we were wondering where our hosts where. Fortunately, Marilou “Ludy” Silorio, DOT IX senior tourism operations officer, had come earlier and quickly brought us to the nearby Garden Orchid Hotel. We had a sumptuous breakfast and off we were for our first adventure with Ludy and Stephanie Camins, also of DOT-9.


Our guide turned out to be no less than my grade school classmate, Icelle Gloria Durano Borja from the Zamboanga Normal College Laboratory School, the present-day Western Mindanao State University. Icelle is a multi-awarded guest curator and research associate of the National Museum of Zamboanga City at the famous Fort Pilar. She is the president of the Mindanao Association of Museums; executive council member of the National Commission  on Museums and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). Besides being a museum and cultural worker, Icelle is also a researcher, painter and registered nurse!


We started our tour in the Plaza Rizal at the very epicenter of the old poblacion. It’s in much better condition than it was in my salad days thanks to the efforts of the late Grand Dame of Zamboanga, former Congresswoman and City Mayor Maria Clara Lorenzo Lobregat, whom we know as Tita Caling, being the second cousin of my late Dad Rene on the Lorenzo side.


Plaza Rizal (photo by Mike Banos)


The centerpiece of the Plaza is a statue of Rizal which sports an immaculately white coat of paint and boasts of two authentic cannon from the Spanish times and an immaculately cared for garden harkening back to the days of the old Ciudad delas Flores.


Although we didn’t have sufficient time to stroll in it, also found nearby is Plaza Pershing. Originally named “Plaza de Don Juan de Salcedo” for one of Spain’s great 16th century Conquistadores, it was renamed “Plaza Pershing” in 1915 in memory of General John J. “Blackjack” Pershing for his contributions to the heritage of Zamboanga City.


The famous kiosk of Plaza Pershing at dusk. (photo by Mike Banos)


The old fountain near the defunct City Theatre is gone, replaced by a multi-purpose building, since the original octagonal kiosko is now too small to host most public events for which it was originally built. Which is a pity, because that fountain was beautiful and a sight to behold with its mini waterfall, water lilies, sculptures and golden carp. Nonetheless, Plaza Pershing remains one of the favorite hang-out places of Zamboangueños as evidenced by the crowds gathered there enjoying themselves with their friends and loved ones.


From Plaza Rizal Icelle brought us across N.S. Valderrosa St. (named in honor of the first mayor of Zamboanga) to the historic City Hall. Built in 1905-1907 by the Americans colonizers as the civic building of American Governors of the Moro Province, it now houses the city government of Zamboanga and is considered the oldest heritage provincial capitol in the country with its Spanish Renaissance Architecture.


Built with the help of Japanese carpenters who left their imprint on the chrysanthemum carvings of its doors, the building escaped destruction from both the Japanese and American military during World War II since both sides had a high regard for its cultural and heritage value to both nations.


Zamboanga City Hall was built by the Americans in 1905-1907. It is considered the oldest heritage provincial capitol in the country with its Spanish Renaissance Architecture (photo by Mike Banos)


Again, I must take my hat off to Tita Caling and her dedicated band of Zamboangueño historians and heritage conservationists, especialy Icelle, for restoring the City hall to its former glory. Despite some modern amenities, it didn’t look this good during previous administrations although Icelle laments the two fountains in its inner courtyard are no longer maintained and the carp she personally donated and cared for mysteriously disappeared with the passing of Tita Caling.


For our next issue, we will continue our tour of downtown Zamboanga with visits to the BPI Museum, Pettit Barracks, Fort Pilar and Paseo del Mar.


Cebu Pacific flies from Cagayan de Oro to Zamboanga three times a week every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. It is the largest airline in the country with the lowest year-round fares.


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