BULALACAO, Oriental Mindoro — Torn among the three world-famous island resorts: Boracay, in the south; Coron, Palawan, in the west; and Puerto Galera, in the north — Bulalacao, east of Mindoro Island, is being groomed as the “best alternative” to the three neighboring tourism giants in the region. With its glowing trail of 13 tiny, but untouched islands, Bulalacao, which literally means a “meteor” or a “shooting star” in the dialect, is true to form as its name suggests.
"While we want our town to be counted as the best alternative to Boracay, Coron, and Puerto Galera, we have yet to wait for investors to come," admits Bulalacao Mayor Neil C. Villas, stressing that this far-away town has yet to harness its existing, but untapped natural potentials to lure tourists to come in.
"While our town has the natural assets to compete with other resorts in the country, it still lacks facilities and other physical amenities to lure tourists to stay for a longer period," says Mayor Villas, who claims that visitors from Metro Manila and the neighboring provinces volunteer to come here on their own to enjoy island hopping and bask in the sun and white sands.
But residents here, as a stop-gap measure, offer homestays, an old tradition practiced by the locals to share their homes and food with walk-in visitors, explains Villas, who is moving from pillar to post to sell the town to the outside world to make it competitive.
Mistaken, hundreds years ago, by unlettered natives as "nocturnal birds that killed hundreds of islanders," the 13 beautiful islands of Bulalacao were believed to be debris of meteor showers or asteroids that impact the area at that time, according to the local belief.
"Actually, even at the present time, fishermen find black stones and black pebbles on the seashores of Suguicay and Mauhaw or Ma-it Islands," according to Villas, suggesting that the extraordinary rocks were chips of meteors that fell on the area years ago. "Maybe, the 13 islands were big shards of fallen meteors," he says.
At the southernmost tip and the last of the 15 coastal municipalities and a city, Bulalacao, a fourth-class and "one of the poorest of the poor" towns of Oriental Mindoro, sits on rolling hills overlooking the placid Tablas Strait.
The Bulalacao mainland is hemmed in by a baker’s dozen of islands and islets that makes the town a natural magnet for travel enthusiasts. They are:
The five-hectare Alibatan Island, in the southeast; Sibalat Island, northwest; the 90-hectare Maasin Island, southeast; the 150-hectare, rocky Tambaron Island; Suguicay Island, in the north; the Buyayao Island or Peninsula; Pocanil Island; the Bating Peninsula; Balatasan Cove, Apao Island, Libago Island, Aslom Island, Ma-it or Mauhaw Island, Liwagao Island, and the Apo Reef and Island.
The famous Boracay Island is just a two-hour sailing distance from Balatasan Cove, one of Bulalacao’s beautiful natural harbors. Also, if one will come from Balatasan Bay, Coron, in nothern Palawan, is also accessible by a motorized boat for only four hours. Puerto Galera, which is at the northernmost tip of Oriental Mindoro, is just three-hour overland travel bypassing Calapan City.
Oriental Mindoro Governor Arnan C. Panaligan is harnessing the natural potentials of all the province’s towns and city, Bulalacao included, in the provincial government’s Strategic Development Framework Plan for 2005 to year 2020, with its main focus on the full development of the island’s agricultural potentials and ecological tourism industry.
Governor Panaligan stressed that planners must ensure that Oriental Mindoro is not just a mere "gateway" of the Strong Republic Nautical Highway to the country’s southern islands, but the province must also "become a major tourist destination."
The scenic beauty of undiscovered Bulalacao, which is reinforced by its 13 islands, islets, coves, and peninsulas, on top of its other natural potentials, forms part of its integration into Presidential Proclamation 1801 declaring it as "tourism zones and marine reserves under the administration of the Philippine Tourism Authority."
Oriental Mindoro is also one of the eight priority areas under the Tourism Investment Priorities Plan as per Letter of Instruction No. 75, which means that the national government will initiate the promotion or construction of tourism facilities in the area in tandem with the local government unit concerned.