Bataan has lots to offer local and foreign tourists. It is transforming itself into a university town, a center for political, economic social and cultural interaction in the Asia-Pacific Region in 2020.
I barely recognized Balanga City. I was there more than 20 years ago. If I didn’t have a tour guide with me, I would have been lost and not find my way around like I used to. I am sad, though, that there is no more Joyous Fishpond Resort and Restaurant and in its place is a downscaled Tangway Restaurant that still serves the comfort food that Joyous used to serve and more. I enjoyed the stewed chicken (sinigang) with ayo leaves as souring ingredient. The crispy shrimp is now nilasing na hipon and tasted as yummy.
It is also unfortunate that I was unable to visit the “Sinampalucan” place. I remember their stewed chicken with young tamarind leaves as souring agent and many others. The owner, I understand, is ill and I ask our pious readers to say a little prayer for her speedy and complete healing.
Balanga has, perhaps, the most modern wet market in the whole country; you could do your marketing there even wearing your Sunday best. Their Arcade or Plaza is something to be proud of and in the evening, it lights up and shows off its splendor. I was told that the Arcade (composed of Saint Joseph Cathedral, Balanga City Hall, Galeria Victoria, Plaza Hotel and Center Plaza Mall) is patterned after the city center of Salamanca, Spain, especially the uniform architecture of the cluster of buildings around the Arcade. In the spacious center is a statue of Dr. Jose Rizal, a permanent stage and a fountain/light show. It reminds me of the shopping center of Turin, Italy and of Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.
The first stop for tourists is the Provincial Tourism Center along the highway. They have a scenic representation of Peacetime in Bataan to the Fall of Bataan. They also have a pictorama of different attractions in Bataan and a display of all products made in Bataan. Provincial Tourism Officer Techie Banzon is contemplating on filling up the vast tract of land surrounding their office into a showcase of native trees. Then the children can learn about our bountiful and beautiful endemic flora.
They also have the Wetland and Nature Park in Tortugas, Balanga where, so far, they have counted about 18,000 migratory birds of different species taking sanctuary there. Birdwatchers will love this place.
Twenty years ago, there was only the Dambana ng Kagitingan to appreciate the heroism of our soldiers, guerillas, and American soldiers during World War II. Now you don’t even need to climb Mt. Samat. There is a newly opened Bataan World War II Museum at the Balanga Elementary School, where the surrender terms were negotiated between the American and Japanese military forces in April 9, 1942. And henceforth we celebrate Bataan Day every April 9. Why? Shouldn’t we mark Bataan Day based on a more auspicious and joyous event?
Finally, to become a university town, Balanga has allocated 80 hectares for its school zone “to provide access to high quality education with complete educational facilities and amenities, supportive and conducive to learning and provides enhanced academic experience.” Very laudable. Then it would be less traffic in Metro Manila especially during school days because the students will stay in Bataan, and less financial and safety worries for their parents and a better environment for them to grow up in. Maybe they can just sponsor exchange programs with schools outside of Bataan for their students to learn other cultures, thread of thoughts and ways of interaction.
This is the most striking part: they are communicating and giving services to their people. The whole of Bataan is strictly no smoking zone. In Balanga, the only place one can smoke is in the confines of their houses and cars. They have assigned marshalls to see to it that Balanguenos follow disciplinary policies and rules. They have skills training for those not going to higher education, medical missions, college scholarships, tuition subsidy, summer sports, theater and literacy clinics, Philhealth subsidy, medical assistance, a new Bataan General Hospital (our tour driver proudly said, “Ma’am, that is our PGH, everything is good quality!”) and for teachers: scholarships and laptop loan.
There are many more happening in Bataan. I only visited parts of Balanga and Bagac. I was told, for example, that Morong has more than 20 waterfalls and Bagac has some of the best beaches facing the West Philippines Sea and Pilar has the longest Zipline in the country and many more. Do you know that the walis tambo (grass broom) that you buy in Baguio are all made in Abucay, Bataan? I will be back soon. Meantime, Baler could take many lessons from Bataan.