Valley of tears: No-no’s in trying to sell a place | Inquirer Business

Valley of tears: No-no’s in trying to sell a place

FLYING INTO and out of Davao City has always been meaningful to this contributor. From 1984 when I first took off from its tiny airport with memories of Barrio Obrero to the 1990s when I joined the first durian festival and later covered the opening of The Royal Mandaya Hotel, the city has grown, to use a cliché, in leaps and bounds.

Once, it was THE largest, but now ranks third after Shanghai, China, and Puerto Princesa, Palawan. Don’t know much about geography, but Asian cities, especially those in the Philippines, have a fascinating way of enlarging territories.


Gus Miclat, who I met in the ’80s and who, when I last saw him in ’98, was busy advocating peace and solidarity tourism, is flying out on the day I land so we exchange a quick hello on SMS. He tells me to enjoy his city’s rapid urbanization, texting, “Enjoy the iba-ness (difference). Have coffee at Coffee for Peace in Matina. Run by Menonite Fil-Canadian couple. Good friends Dann and Joji Pantoja. Come back when am there. Ayo ayo.”

Ayo ayo is the city’s and the Davao province’s parlance for “keep well, take care,” according to Gus.


I store his message, hoping that before the media group of three (one young man from a business paper, another young man from a major daily and this middle-aged working stiff old enough to wipe their noses should they weep) leave for Manila again, I can have some free time to look for the coffee shop. “Fat chance in hell,” to use another friend’s expression.

The tour’s itinerary is supposedly hectic with no time wasted, but after breakfast, the agony of anticipation begins. Tourism officers, including from the private sector, come and go to introduce, then excuse, themselves, saying they can’t join us on the Compostela Valley (ComVal) tour. Easily an hour and a half’s wait goes by, time enough to buy extra meds in case of getting stranded.

When we push off for ComVal’s provincial capitol, it was just me (Mama Bear), her two cubs, the driver of a hired van and a quiet guide. The cubs catch up on sleep as we had taken an early-morn flight. They had decided to stay up the night before so as not to miss the plane.

The guide says a total of one sentence as we take a fork on the road: “That other road leads to Tagum City, site of the First International Rondalla Festival.” Then silence reigned once more as drive continues.

Once off the van at the capitol in Cabidianan, Nabunturan, we are welcomed with a necklace each of dried coconut shells. The cubs, newly wakened from sleep, have that where-in-heavens-have-we-been-brought-to look.

A provincial tourism officer briefs us about how young a province ComVal is (it has turned 13 in March) with coastal and highland destinations, the latter places offering climes as cool as Tagaytay and Baguio.

ComVal is celebrating its Bulawan Festival the day of our arrival. There’s no explanation about what the feast is all about, except from lay person’s knowledge that the word means “gold” and is also the name of a refereed Philippine journal.


ComVal is mineral country. Rebels, private companies and individuals, and the government all earn from this geological resource. So fecund is the valley that it can be said to be over-mined.

ComVal boasts of clay in red, green, blue and white. Perky officer says white is the most expensive because it has to be heated at three times higher than the temperature for red clay.

ComVal has won the Civil Service Commission’s (CSC) seal of excellence in governance and is, according to Ms Perky, the only local government unit complying with the Anti-Red Tape Act. For example, if one applies for a license, government services are so calibrated that the license is produced quickly. Ms Perky is so thrilled about this CSC award that “we have to maintain it so we can’t go anywhere but down.”

We are ushered into Governor Arturo “Chiongkee” T. Uy’s office on the fourth floor. He tells us about how, in the province’s early years, it was Wild Wild West: “Magulo (chaotic). Di magkasundo ang mga congressmen at mayor (the congressmen and mayors couldn’t get their act together).”

Upon his election in 2007, he says he reached out to all provincial board members. By his 100th day, the province was united.

Its symbol of unity: a huge gold and silver ring put together through donations of from one to 50 grams of the precious materials.

“It’s the unity we’ve been dreaming of,” he says as he lets us behold the ring.

This ring, worth more than a million pesos, is displayed within a glass case at the capitol lobby during working hours. It is stored in a vault, we suppose, once the five o’clock siren blares out.

Uy is ensuring that provincial and national roads leading to the municipalities will be done within three years.

As for security problems, he says, “There are six guerilla fronts here, but they don’t bother tourists. The rebels’ issue against us is not eliminating poverty fast enough, not providing the basic needs of our constituents, especially those in far-flung barangays.”

What he does is to tell the Armed Forces assigned there not to crush the insurgency through guns but “through good governance. The military is shifting its direction. In the past, it was all-out war. Now it’s community-building.”

He doesn’t discount the strength of the New People’s Army: “Buhay na buhay ang NPA [The NPA is very much alive] because ours is a rich province. We have small- and large-scale miners. All give to the NPA so they won’t be touched. This is the NPA’s bread and butter when it comes to funds. Their propaganda says public education is not entirely free. I say, it is free, just pay the miscellaneous.”

For the second quarter this year, his province will open 32 new classrooms and obey President (Benigno) Aquino III’s order that whatever the national government puts in ComVal (e.g., P10 million), ComVal will match.

Uy is turning hospitals into an “economic enterprise” because “it is hard to hire doctors and other medical personnel if we don’t have a corporate structure.”

After the short interview, we are dismissed but not before we sign an attendance sheet. At the dining hall, another attendance sheet is presented to our group.

I protest, “I signed one there in the gov’s office.”

The clerk replies, “It’s for our HRD. It’s SOP.”

Ms Perky introduces us to the person assigned to us, a man named “Manay.” Manay leads us to the tourism office below, then tours the cubs around the capitol grounds where there is a fair and some dancing going on.

Another guide, this time from Davao City, brings me to a display of local products. I find a booth selling place mats, coasters and similar local crafts. I buy coasters at P5 each and ask how much the set of matching place mats cost. The stall minder says the place mats had just arrived. She doesn’t know the price. I ask gently, “Maybe you can text or call your employer to ask.” She starts texting. I am willing to wait.

My guide from the city whispers, “Huwag ka na diyan [Don’t buy there]. When you return to Davao City, everything you need is at Aldevinco.” Aldevinco is a strip mall near the Marco Polo Hotel where one can find products from the Davao provinces, including ComVal, with nearly 200 percent markup.

Sigh, so much for One Town, One Product and patronizing the locals to be rid of middlemen. That guide is loyal to her city at ComVal’s expense.

After an afternoon wasted in the tourism officer’s office checking mail, answering urgent letters and finally, Facebooking, while a cub plays his video game, the other cub looks pissed off – it dawns on us that we’ve been had.

We tell Manay and the silent guy in the van that our time is being wasted. Can we please move on to the next destination if there’s no one else to interview? Both answer that we have to wait for dinner hour to begin.

Cub No. 1 says, we can buy our own food on the road. By this time all three of us are ganging up on Manay and Mr. Quiet Nice Guy who are flustered by our reaction to time wasted and lost.

I ask candidly, “May I know what’s after dinner? Is there a program that we have to see to explain the delay?” No program.

Manay’s feathers are ruffled. He addresses Cub No. 1 pointblank, “Are you a tour operator?” Cub’s face darkens in fury as apparently, Manay has not been briefed that we are information seekers. Manay adds, “We are not prepared to receive media.”

Hurriedly swallowing dinner before our combined irritation forces us to turn Manay and quiet guy upside down, we head for a beach resort in Pantukan after signing another attendance sheet. That is where the trip takes on the atmosphere of a theater of the absurd.

We stagger to our rooms, tired, lacking in sleep and information. The local tourism officer daintily knocks on my door. I am in a state of modest undress, ready for bed. He issues a piece of paper that states we still have to do one last thing at the resort at 11 p.m.: “Relax…relax…relax…” He adds that drinks and a videoke await us at that time of the night. “Thanks but no thanks,” I say. “Let’s do the work we came here for in the morning.”

I prepare to take a shower. There is a standby pail. Twist shower knob, out comes trickle of water with the quantity and force of ants’ urine. Sigh.

After having breakfast alone, early riser that I am, the resort owner tells me how her place is “pang magbubukid [for the farmers]” which is why the resort has no website, just some cell phone numbers on her business card.

This will be the pattern of answers in the two more resorts we visit – they have not much to show as their beach enterprises are mainly for the locals. By then, our party is being trailed by a convoy of six Philippine National Police carrying long arms and an ambulance. At almost every stop, resort owners lay out snacks. The policemen and ambulance driver help themselves to food and drinks.

At one point, dainty tourism officer says, “Ma’am, tignan mo naman, may pagkain every stop [Look, there’s food at every stop].” I inhale deeply, exhale through my mouth and through the corner of lips, say, “We had breakfast already. We came here for information. Is there someone who can tell us about this place?”

He stands back, asks the cook if she can answer our queries. She declines and frantically looks for someone else.

Tourism officer leads the convoy as Mama Bear and her cubs text their respective editors, please prepare to ransom or airlift us in case we get caught in the crossfire between the NPA and the PNP.

Tourism officer assures us that we’re getting the VIP treatment. Mama Bear and cubs turn to each other and our unspoken thought bubble is: “If this is VIP treatment, what more if our skin is white as driven snow? You mean it isn’t safe to travel along the highway?”

Toward our second to the last stop in ComVal, tourism officer overdoes his duties, “To your right is our Shell gas station. To your left is our talipapa.”

What keeps me from bursting out laughing is when he points to his town’s newest travel agency. Its name? There is no typo here: YOU MUST TRAVEL AND TOURS!

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