Tuesday, December 12, 2017
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GenSan: March to a different tuna

Of course everybody in business knows that new investments in this boomtown called General Santos City are bursting, consistently hitting more than P1 billion a year in the past few years—and still growing fast.

Here is the fun part (well, at least based on the trend of the past three years): More than 30 percent of the fresh capital is going into brand-new swanky hotels and restaurants, and another 20 percent or so goes to gigantic malls and shopping centers.

Question: Do you really think such a trend indicates that the city is poised for a boom in tourism?

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The incumbent city mayor, first-termer Ronnel Rivera who belongs to the family regarded as the richest in the city, already took note of the tourism trend as the next step in the GenSan boom saga. For one, the city already became one of only a few—awfully few—cities in the country that print their own city maps.

Well, the last time I checked, even the top tourism place in this country, the summer capital called Baguio City, does not have its own city map that the local government gives to tourists for free.

To think, this is the mayor who, at one time, did not earn the approval of our leader Benigno Simeon (aka BS). From what I gathered, during the midterm elections last year, as Rivera ran for city mayor for the first time, our leader BS went to GenSan not only once but twice to campaign against Rivera—house to house!

And I am not even sure whether the bad losing experience of our leader BS in GenSan in 2013 can carry to 2016.

Anyway, the conveniences of modern urban living are now evident in GenSan, with huge malls like KCC Mall, SM City, Robinsons Place, Gaisano Mall, RD Plaza, Veranza Mall, and RD City Mall. The Metro Manila-based supermarket chain SM Savemore also has a branch in the city, and it is planning to build more outlets, while the Ayala group and the retail chain Puregold are also prospecting for prime locations.

GenSan also does not lack in natural tourist attractions since it has the Klaja Ecopark located just 15 kilometers from the central business district. There is also Mount Matutum—a famous “active” volcano with a well-preserved 320-meter wide crater, serving as an entry to a densely forested floor some 120 meters deep.

In GenSan, when you are lucky enough to witness a full moon by the hills overlooking Sarangani Bay, you surely will marvel at its unique color, something close to tangerine, making you swear there is a God.

It is thus not a great mystery why Rivera now consciously wants his city to march to a different tune, perhaps taking a solid shot to make tourism one of its leading industries and take up the slack in the tuna fishing business that actually built the city from its sleepy town days as “Dajangas City”—its former name which was derived from the Dajangas tree that used to be found all over the place.

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Actually, the city that is now more popularly known simply as GenSan now labels itself the “tuna capital” of the Philippines, owing perhaps to the massive investments in tuna fishing and the canning sector over the past 40 years.

It all started in the 1970s when the Japanese market for fresh tuna caught the attention of subsistence fishing folk in GenSan, who used mere hand-line and ring-net techniques at the mouth of the scenic Sarangani Bay to reel in tuna for their daily consumption.

But as the tuna export market grew, investments in the industry started to pour in by the hundreds of millions of pesos, thus creating a whole new industry in the region.

Today, in GenSan, there are about 164 tuna catcher vessels (each worth about $10 to $20 million), more than 3,000 tuna hand-line fishing boats, and hundreds of service vessels for tuna fishing.

According to the Socsargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries, the industry today earns for the country some $350 million a year in tuna exports, particularly canned tuna.

It is widely known that six of the seven tuna canning plants in the country are located at GenSan, employing more than 20,000 people.

By the way, just recently, the people of GenSan tried to put their city in the Guinness Book of World Records.

During the tuna festival organized by the Philippine Fisheries Development Authority held in GenSan last month, the residents wanted to set a world record for the largest fish display.

The world record was held by the Netherlands, with 4.5 metric tons of fish on display. But according to media releases from the GenSan city government, the event could easily beat the Netherlands record, as GenSan garnered a total weight of 33.61 metric tons of fresh tuna.

Anyway, as in any other city or province wanting to make a go at tourism, GenSan saw it fit to make up for a lack by inventing its own festival centering on its main industry, which was fishing and canning—a tuna festival.

While GenSan still celebrates the yearly festival, records in the past several years unfortunately showed that tuna landings at the GenSan fishport (said to be the second-busiest in the country, next to the one in Navotas in Metro Manila) have been dwindling.

Even Mayor Rivera noted that investments in the tuna industry had slowed down, accounting for less than 3 percent of the yearly total on record.

The Rivera group of companies, for one, with its more than 50 corporations in banking and financing, real estate, canning and manufacturing, livestock, agriculture, pawnshop chain, plus its flagship RD Fishing, already started to move its tuna business abroad, particularly to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, for new fishing grounds.

By the way, I heard that the oldest existing university in Asia, the University of Santo Tomas (UST) run by the Dominican Order of religious priests, still wants to pursue its plan to set up a new campus on a property in GenSan covering more than 100 hectares (the UST campus in Sampaloc, Manila, on the flood-prone street known as España, only measures a little more than 20 hectares.)

From what I gathered, the former city government of GenSan invented all sorts of issues against the UST plan, such as zoning restrictions and environmental concerns. Word still goes around that the university earned the ire of a powerful family in the area who offered a piece of property to the Dominicans for the new UST campus. The trouble began when the university decided to buy somebody else’s property.

Anyway, the present city government is trying to woo back the Dominicans because, as Mayor Rivera is wont to say, the city can benefit greatly from the establishment of the university, since economic progress always goes hand in hand with higher education.

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TAGS: General Santos City, GenSan, local government, Philippines - Regions, Ronnel Rivera, Tourism, tuna industry
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