Resorts give life to Pampanga town after Pinatubo wrath
BACOLOR, Pampanga, Philippines — Resorts are helping this town rise back after 6 meters of lahar (volcanic debris) buried it from 1992 to 1995 following the June 15, 1991, catastrophic eruption of Mt. Pinatubo.
As of May this year, 32 resorts have registered for business, a local government report showed. These are located in the villages of Cabalantian, San Vicente, Santa Ines (erased by 1995 lahar remobilized by rains and overflowing from the Pasig-Potrero River or Gugu Creek), Cabetican (swamped by 1992 lahar), Calibutbut (the only village spared because it was on the high northern side), Concepcion, Duat, Maliwalu, Parulog, San Antonio and Santa Barbara (trapped inside the lahar-catchment FVR Megadike since 1996), Magliman and San Isidro (straddling the landside of the megadike).
The booming resort industry since 2015 has not stopped. Around 25 establishments in all the 21 villages need to get business permits, Voltaire San Pedro, Bacolor tourism officer, told the Inquirer in a recent interview.
Bacolor has had one resort since 1972. The original, VildeBac in San Vicente, was built by the late Monsignor Odon Santos and charged a P10-entrance fee then. Its four pools drew more than 100 swimmers daily, according to the Catholic priest’s nephew, Joselito David, now 75. Those who could not afford the fee would usually swim freely at a lagoon called Cantarilla near the railroad tracks.
Santos rebuilt the resort in 2004 on its original site when the lahar problem eased, David recalled. The place is rented out for events like weddings, receptions, reunions, birthdays or baptisms for P16,000 overnight.
The total number of daytime visitors or overnight tourists who flock to Bacolor’s resorts during holidays and long weekends is not known.
Nuan Farm and Resort, and Diaspora Farm Resort, which are among the biggest, counted 30,253 and 27,427 guests, respectively, in 2022. Mula de Leticia hosted 98 exclusive events in 2022, which each drew between 1,200 and 1,500 guests.
In terms of land area, some resorts span 4 hectares, while others are less than 500 square meters. They directly employ between five and 50 people, mostly locals and excluding those hired by event suppliers.
Nuan, which is more upscale, rents out its Casa Nuan, for P55,000 to P70,000.
“Business is doing well this year,” said its general manager, Esmer Gozun. “Many copied Nuan’s (business model).”
Grounded on the town’s rehabilitation, Nuan’s owner and Bacolor native Lillet Matic-Chua displays photos of the erstwhile lingering Pinatubo disaster at Nuan Café.Most of the resorts began as family getaways, eventually going commercial when friends began paying for their stay.
They endured the slump in the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their selling points are privacy, comfort and affordability. Others brand themselves as Bali-type, forest-like or pet-friendly destinations. Most rely on social media to promote their businesses.
But why resorts? San Pedro cited these reasons: wide lands were available for sale or resale in Bacolor, and descendants of landowners preferred to build weekend vacation homes and eventually converted these as resorts.
This was the path taken by Lorenzo Sicat-Lopez, a Singapore-based engineer, said his sister Racquel Laureano. Sicat-Lopez bought his grandfather’s lot beside the dike’s spillway in Concepcion and began with just one villa and a pool for his family’s use in 2012. The expansion saw the birth of Greenmark Farm Resort.
Princess Jocelyn Quiwa and her husband Harvey, a former San Fernando city councilor, are in the process of developing Orly’s Oasis Farm Resort in San Isidro, which has eight resorts. A few years ago, land in this area was selling for P500 per sqm and eventually skyrocketed to P3,000.
It helped that the series of lahar rampages raised the ground level of Bacolor, claiming back its old name, “Makabakulud” (on high ground). It also helped that Jose Abad Santos Avenue (formerly Gapan-San Fernando-Olongapo Road) and Manila North Road (formerly MacArthur Highway) cut through the historic town.
It further helped that more national, provincial, municipal, and barangay roads are among those being rebuilt under the Bacolor Rehabilitation Council Law (Republic Act No. 9506), said its author, Senior Deputy Speaker Aurelio Gonzales, who represents the third district of Pampanga.
Gonzales said RA 9506, approved in 2008, set up a rehabilitation program worth P5.7 billion. Of this, P3.5 billion has been spent, and P2 billion more is set for release.
Also, Bacolor has a character of its own. It was the capital of the country when Spanish troops defended it against the British invasion from 1762 to 1764. It was Pampanga’s capital from 1755 until 1903. Known as the “Athens of Pampanga,” its literary, culinary, and civic traditions are impressive.
Resort owners and operators are not yet organized as an association, so there are no common standards to enforce and regulate. The environmental impact of resorts on water supplies has not surfaced as a problem just yet.
In the matter of rehabilitation, the people of Bacolor “showed to the country and the entire world that their resilient and indomitable spirits, along with their undying faith in God, can withstand even the toughest of all challenges, including the inevitable nature’s wrath,” said Nilo Caballa, who, as a former councilor and provincial board member, led fights against abandoning Bacolor to the forces of nature.
The total number of residents who have returned for good in Bacolor reached 39,460 in 2015, up from 13,097 in 1995. It had a population of 67,228 a year before the 1991 eruption, with more than half of the townsfolk dispersed in 10 government- and church-led resettlements all over the province.
“The once ghost town-like municipality has bounced back and regained its cultural and economic prominence,” said Caballa.
Mayor Eduardo Datu said: “We need more school buildings, a new public market, livelihood programs and a flood-control system. We should improve the drainage system in the entire town as well as revive channels and tributaries. We still need billions of pesos for infrastructure development and to provide more equipment to farmers’ groups.”
“Bacolor is now much less vulnerable to the lahar threat than any of the towns around it. People and commerce from the lower-lying neighboring towns may migrate to the raised Bacolor area. The town may eventually have a bright future,” geologist Kelvin Rodolfo and sociologist Kathleen Crittenden wrote in 2002.
FAST FACTS: Bacolor after lahar
• Number of barangays: 21
• Size of land: 7,110 hectares
• Currently suitable for farming: 2,511 hectares
• Cultivated for crops and inland fishery as of 2015: 2,826 hectares
• Business establishments: 948 in 2015
Source: Bacolor Comprehensive Land Use Plan