There’s little evidence of stagnation in the bustling city of Mandaue. Its location is strategic as it connects two other key cities, Cebu and Lapu-Lapu – the three highly urbanized centers make up the core of Metropolitan Cebu.
Linked to Mactan Island and Cebu’s international airport by two modern bridges, Mandaue also sits close to the Cebu International Port, among the country’s busiest. Since Mandaue became a chartered city in 1969, the city government has nurtured the spirit of entrepreneurship, putting forth sound local fiscal policies and attractive tax incentives which make it a preferred investment destination. This business-friendly environment has enticed not only the homegrown brands but also major industrial and commercial companies to operate in the city as well. Large manufacturing plants such as the San Miguel Corporation Brewery have long found a home here, as have the majority of the furniture makers and exporters.
Cebu has been the envy of many provinces across the country for its vibrant economy which has grown at an average of 9% over the past 5 years, faster than the entire country’s. Mandaue City has contributed hugely to Cebu’s being a top performer. These days, real estate developers are busy breaking ground in a scramble to meet the rising demand for residential and commercial spaces in Cebu’s second biggest city. Over 180 hectares of land has been reclaimed, the North Reclamation Area, in the city’s southernmost area that faces the Mactan Channel. Mandani Bay, a master-planned waterfront project along the famed channel, is a 20-hectare mixed-use development that promises to transform Mandaue into a premier lifestyle destination. Mandaue is also poised to be the next hotspot for BPO (business process outsourcing) firms. When Magellan sailed into Cebu in 1521, he sighted a beautiful cove there. Almost five decades later, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi built the country’s first dry docking facility to service galleon ships on that very cove – that place today is Tipolo, Mandaue. The facility can be seen as a precursor to Mandaue’s emergence as a manufacturing hub.
An acknowledged industrial powerhouse known largely for its investor welcoming culture, accessibility to both air and sea ports, and an economy that is constantly throbbing, Mandaue also has a softer and more festive side. The energetic business center winds down for its biggest citywide party on May 8th – the Mandaue Fiesta – when most homes are open for a time of great feasting. The city also celebrates the Panagtagbo Festival, a salute to the history, culture and positive values of the Mandauehanons.
Visitors shouldn’t miss the National Shrine of St. Joseph where a main attraction are the life-size statues of the Last Supper of Christ with the 12 apostles, carved during the Spanish times. Stalls across the street sell the city’s delicacies such as the sweet treat of finely-ground peanuts called masareal and the Mandaue specialty rice cake, bibingka. Bantayan sa Hari (watchtower of the king), like other Spanish-era watchtowers, was built on the coast to alert the townspeople of impending attacks by marauding Moro pirates. Located below the Mandaue-Mactan Bridge, the cylindrical tower still stands today. However, expert advice on heritage conservation was painfully absent when extreme but well-intentioned measures were undertaken in the past to safeguard the endangered structure. The City of Mandaue bears this significant landmark on its official seal as a symbol of its heritage and its vital role in the city’s history.
Check out the other things you can do or visit in Mandaue City:
CITY MARKER. The Mandaue City marker welcomes visitors to the plaza of the progressive industrial city.
SOTERO CABAHUG STATUE. A statue of Sotero Cabahug, considered Mandaue’s greatest son, stands prominently near the Mandaue Presidencia. Cabahug was governor of Cebu from 1934-1937, and later served as Secretary of Public Works and Communications, Secretary of National Defense and Associate Justice of Court of Appeals.
BANTAYAN SA HARI. Bantayan sa Hari is a Spanish-period look-out tower that was used to warn the villagers of incoming pirates. The historic structure is located under the Mandaue-Mactan Bridge in Barangay Looc.
TRANSLACION. Translacion is a religious procession held a day before the Sinulog fluvial parade where the images of Sto. Niño and Our Lady of Guadalupe are transferred to the National Shrine of St. Joseph for a symbolic gathering of the Holy Family: a tableau with life-size statues depicting the Last Supper continues to be a church attraction.
MANDAUE MARKET. The market in Mandaue, or its mercado, has roadside stalls that sell the city’s popular delicacies which include tagaktak, a crunchy and crumbly rice fritter, Mandaue bibingka, a native glutinous rice cake baked in banana leaves, and masareal, a sweet treat made of finely ground peanuts.
INDUSTRIAL HUB. Large manufacturing plants such as the San Miguel Brewery have made a home in Mandaue City for decades; World-class furniture is manufactured in Mandaue and exported globally
URBAN RESORT. The Mandani Bay Show Gallery presents the premier mixed-use 20-hectare development that will rise along Mactan Channel. The master-planned waterfront project, the first of its kind in Cebu, will transform Mandaue’s skyline as it opens in phases in the next 15 years.
Boljoon: A Treasure Trove of History
Your Boljoon experiences starts once you catch sight of Ili Rock, the distinctive landmark mountain that overlooks this beguiling coastal town 103 kilometers south of Cebu City. Jutting out and facing Bohol Strait, the limestone rock formation shelters the town from the north, like the natural fortress it was against invaders before and during the Spanish era. Now it serves as a towering backdrop to some of Boljoon’s heritage sites.
Coming around the bend brings the postcard-pretty town into full view. Nestled in a cove looking over the placid azure waters is the serene Nuestra Señora Patrocinio de Maria church. Listed as a National Historical Landmark, it is the only church in Cebu declared as a National Cultural Treasure – the highest honor given to a heritage structure by the National Museum of the Philippines.
Established as a visita in 1599, the Boljoon church is the oldest remaining original stone church in the country. Built of coral bricks with clay tile roofing in 1783, its walls are two-meters thick, as massive as the 26 pillars that support them. Behind the austere facade with bas-reliefs of biblical characters, the interior features gilded relief sculptures and colorful scenes painted on its vaulted ceiling. Constructed as a place of worship, the simple structure also had defense in mind to give the townspeople a safe refuge from the constant and merciless Moro raids.
Father Julian Bermejo, the Augustinian priest finally completed the church in 1841. Hailed as “el padre capitan,” he fortified the church perimeter with stone walls and started a watchtower defense strategy to alert the town of impending pirate attacks. Signaling with flags and gas lamps at night, the warning system was effectively carried out across the network of baluartes or watchtowers he initiated to be built along the coastal towns from Carcar to the southernmost Santander, a stretch of 96 kilometers. El Gran Baluarte, the largest of Boljoon’s four watchtowers, is a solid two-level structure which was both a weapons and ammunition storeroom and a prison. Standing today as the church belfry, the old mounted cannons have been silenced and replaced by cast iron church bells.
Nuestra Señora Patrocinio de Maria Church was built as a fortress church with two meter-thick walls, giving the townsfolk a place of refuge against Moro raids. The only remaining original stone church in the country, it has been declared a National Cultural Treasure.
The nearby Escuela Catolica was a school erected in 1940 for religious teachings. At times serving as a dormitory, girls and boys who were required to stay overnight before taking their first Holy Communion entered the school separately through a pair of concrete staircases. The old wooden building still remains in use today as a meeting center for the parish’s religious groups.
Recent excavations around the church grounds unearthed skeletons, gold jewelry and artifacts including antique Japanese plates, confirming that Boljoon was a thriving trade settlement in pre-Spanish times. The archeological finds are on display at the Boljoon Museum at the church complex. In spite of pillaging and repeated looting in the past – a communion rail with ornate silver works was even stolen from the church – the parish museum is a treasure trove of old church records, religious icons and historic ornaments.
Guided tours around the church complex and museum are handled by the community-based Asosasyon sa mga Boljoanon nga Magpakabana sa Turismo (ASBOMATU). Its Bygone Boljoon Tours package includes lunch at the historic bell tower. A chunk of the scenic Ili Rock was lost to a slope benching project following Cebu’s 2013 earthquake. The necessary, albeit painful, measure was an engineering remedy to prevent further landslides and to ensure public safety. All is not lost, however, as the quaint town of Boljoon still delivers as being a priceless heritage gem.
Originally published in Postcards from Cebu
Bantayan: A Pilgrim’s Paradise
Vacationers are drawn to Bantayan like pilgrims to a holy land – a blessed island actually, with blinding white beaches and sparkling aquamarine waters that beckon. Indeed, pilgrims do come for its time-honored observance of semana santa or Holy Week. The Maundy Thursday and Good Friday processions draw thousands of pious devotees as grandiose family-owned carrozas (carriages) bearing life-size religious statues, some handed down the generations, make their annual appearance around town.
Bantayan’s Holy Week is like no other in the country, an almost festive atmosphere pervades across the island. While faithful Catholics abstain from eating meat, expect lechon as part of the feasting among families and friends who made it to the island bearing the 3-hour long drive from Cebu City to San Remigio town up north, then an hour’s ferry ride to the Santa Fe port in Bantayan.
It is told that when their fishermen refused to launch out to sea and toil during the most religious time of the year, their families had nothing to eat. An indulto was then issued to Bantayan’s parish priest in 1840 allowing the townspeople to eat meat on Good Friday, and they have been doing so ever since. Whether this applied to Bantayan visitors is unclear but the special dispensation has most likely long expired. If you’re interested in seeing one of the oldest churches in the Philippines, the 15th century Saints Peter and Paul Church was built with walls of coral stone.
Jutting out to the sea, Kota Park’s footbridge allows an expansive view of the surrounding waters and offers an ideal spot to watch Bantayan’s magnificent sunsets. The ruins of the old fort (kota in Spanish) built in 1790 to protect the townspeople from pirates are now part of Kota Park.
During this peak season, inter-island ferries are busy shuttling the overwhelming number of visitors who show up at San Remigio’s Hagnaya Wharf, all of them in a mad rush to make the crossing and start their long Easter weekend on the tropical isle. Accommodations in Bantayan are unpretentious and pitching a tent on the beach is an option when rooms are hard to come by.
The laid-back lifestyle resumes once the Holy Week frenzy dies down as islanders around the 3 main towns return to their fishing nets and poultry farms. Bantayan, also the name of the biggest town, is where 80% of the eggs in the province come from, while Madridejos is Cebu’s main supplier of dried fish. The friendly resort town of Santa Fe is the perfect island getaway that tourists dream about. Its endless white-sand beaches remain nothing short of spectacular, and the best spot to bask in the sun, or watch it retreat gloriously beyond the horizon.
Bountiful harvests from the sea around Bantayan Island find their way to the local town market; seafood couldn’t be any fresher than here.
Originally published in Postcards from CebuMotorbikes can be rented to check out some of the island’s interesting sites like the Ogtong Cave. There’s also the little known Virgin Island for those who just can’t get enough of the beach. After super-storm Yolanda (internationally named Haiyan) brutally lashed across the island – and other parts of northern Cebu – in 2013 and rendered people homeless, Bantayan has pretty much well recovered. With generous humanitarian and financial aid from around the world, and the commendable hard work, resourcefulness and community spirit of the local population, the islanders are back on their feet again with rebuilt homes, revived livelihoods and renewed energy.
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