MANILA, Philippines - In the province of Bohol, there is good news there.
Last week, President Noynoy assured 1,800 barangay officials (during "Barangay Day") gathered in the capital of Tagbilaran City that some P7.4 Billion will be allotted to realize an "almost three-decades old dream" of Boholanos to erect an international airport in the fabled white-sand island of Panglao.
It was former Bohol Governor Nonoy Torralba, also Pnoy mother's (Cory Aquino) secretary of Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) who first envisioned that international airport amid an eco-tourism environment
Given the multiplier effects of tourism, Boholanos are thrilled that within the term of President Aquino the first chartered jumbo jet flight (300 passengers) will already touch down the airport-after a very long wait.
The first targeted countries could be Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong and China, according to Rep. Rene Relampagos of Bohol's First District. Anticipating these - large-scale hotels like the Bellevue of the Chans and the Mirabago Bluewater (Cebu) group have both recently opened luxury hotels facing Panglao's sparkling blue seawater.
Other big-name hotels are expected to follow suit as the airport slowly but surely becomes a prized reality in 2015.
President Aquino says he gets this "it's more fun in Bohol" feeling when he gets there and so enthused was he that Aquino had often viewed photos of the Panglao airport site and some of the drawing perspective. The Panglao airport is one of the priority international airports akin to the new Daraga airport which will replace the Legaspi City airport.
Albay and Bohol share the same anguish - a congested domestic airport. In the case of Bohol the tiny city airport is barely able to accommodate all passengers of nine domestic 320 airbuses of PAL, Zest Air, Cebu Pacific, Air Philippines-everyday. And never half empty flights, mind you.
Tagbilaran City airport is hampered by the terrain and hills of Dauis and the mountain ranges in Maribojocso it can hardly expand. Now, even the Koreans want to add two more flights direct from Korea aboard similar budget airplanes, carrying 150 passengers each.
During the recent 21st Visayas Area Business Conference in the city, Tourism Chief Ramon Jimenez said the congested city airport can be solved with virtually portable "terminals" made of fiber glass and steel as a temporary respite that can be assembled in six months. This is done in countries hosting large but temporary events like sports and the like - in many parts of the world.
It was also announced that the Asian Development Bank was poised to lend money to make Bohol a "tourism laboratory" to produce skills and talents for the industry not only here but in Asia as well. The Singaporeans had been awed by the fact that majority of their tourism pillars are currently manned by Filipinos so - they want to go direct to the source (Philippines) - and hire recruits.
"Bohol is a Boracay-plus a destination" because in addition to its white sand beaches - in Panglao and Anda - (plus snorkeling and diving in nearby islands) it prides itself with its Chocolate Hills, river boat rides, tarsier, waterfalls, dolphin watching, centuries-old churches, an Adventure Trip in Danao (ziplines and the "Plunge"), man-made forests and Southeast Asia's longest mangrove plantation.
Governor Edgar Chatto, author of the Tourism Bill while in Congress, now directs the tourism bonanza in Bohol. They are even talking of a "One Town One Tour Site" to further diversify Bohol's many wonders. The whole island can also be traveled full circle (ube- like) in a few hours across a well-paved coastal road network with some breathtaking view of the sea waves lashing at the rock formations.
Likewise, four of the thirty one priority sea ports to be established under the DOTC's P251-Billion build and refurbish port programs are located in Bohol. That's making sure the "tourism related" infrastructure is in place.
The next big thing in Bohol, though, is the BPO/KPO industry that earned the country US$11-B last year. With "fiber-optics" now in place and the neo-university town image of Bohol shaping up, it is a matter of time that Bohol will step in cadence with the more advanced stages obtaining in Negros Oriental and Cebu in this industry.
Being eyed as a PEZA housing for the BPOs would be the large provincial hospital grounds (to be relocated) or even perhaps the city airport when the need for just one airport in Panglao (like Albay's) will present itself.
In terms of agriculture, Bohol wears a crown. While all these years the country was the biggest importer of rice, Bohol was always a "net exporter" of rice to other provinces. When drought threatened last August like the beginnings of the dreaded "El Niño," the province contracted a 60-hour cloud seeding program that brought water back to the Malinao Dam and to the watershed areas like Sevilla, Alicia and neighbors. (And even Tagbilaran City that did not need rain - got rain) That saved the "rice granary" of the Visayas from a clear unequivocal disaster.
Fruit and vegetable growing, livestock and poultry and inland fishing have also been encouraged not only to address the growing tourism market but to serve the plates of the ordinary Boholano over time as well. In time, Bohol could become food (not just rice) sufficient.
As one speaker during the Visayas business confab summarized so gloriously: Imagine being paid well as a BPO agent and be just 20 minutes away from the beach, just 30 minutes from a prospective gold course and just 5 minutes from a subdued but pleasant night life?
That's like transferring some part of heaven to earth, if you ask us.
There's "more fun in the Philippines?" - but try Bohol. If you have done that already, find out what's new. There's always one good news there per month, it would seem.
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of FINEX.