Rise of historic Mactan | Inquirer Business

Rise of historic Mactan

Since chieftain Lapu-Lapu killed explorer Ferdinand Magellan and defeated the Spaniards in a battle in 1521, Mactan Island, some 13 kilometers from Cebu City, has risen to become one of the country’s success stories.

With a total land area of about 7,000 hectares, the island is a gateway to the Visayas and is home to economic zones, five-star hotels and resorts, and exotic restaurants. Lapu-Lapu’s heroism, meanwhile, is commemorated in a shrine on the island.

Sleepy fishing village


According to the ancient Cebuano epic “Aginid,” the original name of the island was Opong. As the islanders turned to piracy, however, it was referred to as Mangatang (“to wait in ambush”), which evolved into Matan, then Mactan.


Mactan was a sleepy fishing village when Americans came to the island during the Vietnam War. In 1956, the United States Air Force built an airfield on the island as an alternative staging area for its air offensives. In 1978, international air routes of Mactan-Cebu International Airport commenced as a charter service.

By then, a bridge was built to connect populous Cebu to the island. In 1979, the Mactan Export Processing Zone was opened. This divided Mactan into industrial west and tourism east.


The coral island used to have stony beaches, not conducive for swimming, until businessmen covered them with fine white sand and developed the coastline that would eventually spur a resort boom.

Aside from the white sand beaches, Mactan Island has also attracted local and foreign divers, mostly from South Korea and Japan, for its lush marine ecology, exotic tropical fish and abundant rich corals.

Booming tourism

One of the pioneers in Mactan’s tourism industry is private membership resort Tambuli Beach Club, which was owned by the Fonaciers. Boom Fonacier, son of hotelier Anos Fonacier, took over Tambuli in 1979 and converted the development into an upscale resort.

Also an early developer in Mactan is Bluewater Maribago, which opened in 1989. The resort, which sits on a 7-ha expanse, has a wide shoreline.

In 1993, the luxurious 530-room Shangri-La Mactan Resort and Spa, was opened. The hotel boasts of sustainability measures, which include a sewage-treatment plant that processes waste water, then treats and cleans it to the point of providing recycled water for irrigation and landscape maintenance.

Among the relatively newer resorts would be the Filinvest-owned Crimson Resort & Spa. The Balinese-inspired 6-ha resort boasts of 250 casita suites, 40 private villas (with 38 plunge pools), infinity pool, and a spa haven called “Aum.”

A P4-billion mixed-use hotel and residential development on a 5-ha property in Barangay Punta Engaño, Lapu-Lapu City, is set to be completed in the next two years. Set to be opened this year is the Sheraton Cebu Mactan Resort, while The Residences at Sheraton Cebu Mactan Resort is scheduled to be completed in 2020.

Infrastructure upgrade

As more tourists and investors started to flock to Cebu, its airport became a natural hub for air and sea traffic.

In 1996, under a P2.78 billion modernization project funded by Japan’s Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund, the Mactan-Cebu International Airport upgraded its terminal with facilities at par with world standards and regulations.

In 2018, the Mactan Cebu International Airport Terminal 2 was inaugurated. The terminal was one of the projects under the government’s public-private partnership program and was only 16 percent complete when it was chosen as one of the projects under the Duterte administration’s “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure initiative.

It was built to increase the airport’s capacity to 12.5 million passengers from the previous 4.5 million passengers. The new terminal spans 65,500 sqm and was designed by Hong Kong-based Integrated Design Associates together with local designers Budji Layug, Royal Pineda and Cebu’s own Kenneth Cobonpue.

From January to April, Mactan-Cebu International Airport Authority recorded international and domestic passenger traffic at 4.11 million. In April alone, passenger movements were pegged at 1.1 million.


The first tourism economic zone in Cebu was launched in January 2009 to host more tourism traffic and investments on Mactan Island. The ecozone, which sits in an 8-ha property in Brgy. Maribago in Mactan, features a P4.5-billion condominium-hotel and water park by Korean-owned Philippine-BXT Corp. and a five-star international hotel chain under the Imperial Palace franchise.

Another tourism ecozone is the Mactan Newtown, a commercial mixed-use complex on a 16-ha property. It is one of the biggest projects in the Visayas of property giant Megaworld Corp. It houses luxury residential condominiums, offices, retail shops, entertainment and leisure establishments, a wellness facility, and a boutique hotel.

In March this year, consultants from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) proposed a new bridge that will connect Mactan Island to Mandaue City in Cebu “to meet the expanding traffic capacity between the two islands generated by the booming Cebu’s industry and tourism.” The proposed 7-km bridge will be the fourth bridge connecting Mactan to mainland Cebu.

The first Mactan bridge was finished in 1972, while the Marcelo Fernan Bridge was opened to traffic in 1999. The third bridge project called the Cebu-Cordova Link Expressway is under construction. Spanning Cordova and Cebu City, it is a PPP project undertaken by Cebu-Cordova Link Expressway Corp.

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Sources: Inquirer Archives, lapulapucity.gov.ph, mciaa.gov.ph, peza.gov.ph, pna.gov.ph, psa.gov.ph, shangri-la.com, sheration.residences.ph

TAGS: Cebu, Inquirer Research, Mactan

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