Privatization of Callao Resort
By Benjie S. De Yro
If plans won’t miscarry, the once-famous Callao Caves may once again regain its lost glories. That is, if the provincial government led by the new administration of Governor Manuel Mamba, will pursue its plan of giving the management of the resort to the private sector.
Tourism stakeholders have noted that, save for the administration of Governor Teresa Dupaya who initiated the project, no other Governor has taken an extra concern on the development of the resort. Based on the provincial development plan, vis-a- vis the whims and caprice of past governors, the resort virtually stood as a beggar to its supposed to be developer, waiting for visible major repairs and improvements, if there are any.
The Callao Caves is one of the 300 caves situated along the Penablanca Protected Landscape and Seascape, formerly the Callao Caves National Park, the largest protected area in the province with 118,781.582 hectares area coverage.
From a most-sought after calendared destination since its opening, it has deteriorated into its sorry state the last two decades or so.
Led by Governor Dupaya, the provincial government has capitalized on a very popular caves system in Barangay Callao, Penablanca to create a tourism icon which was ahead of its time. In fact, it was one of the very few, if not the first, government resorts which offered ecological tourism as major attraction.
The area is seen as a sure tourism winner. It did before its present state.
The Callao Cave is where the First Filipino, the Callao Man, was unearthed. Other than the Callao Man, the caves provided world archaeologists with rich materials on the history of early man in this part of the country.
Various endemic flora and fauna call the area their home including the fruit bat (Cynopterus bradryotis), whiskered pitta (Erythropitta kochi), Philippine deer (Russa marianna) and a hundred others.
The selection of the Callao Caves as a potential avenue for income-generation not only for the government but for the various stakeholders in the area is commendable. Suddenly, the Ybanags, Itawit and Agays in the area start to see and welcome people from all walks of life from all over; foreigners included.
As a culture guru, remnants of her former profession as a teacher, Dupaya hired the best architects, engineers, environment planners, and landscape artists to work together to come up with a top-of-the line caves resort. Thus, born the beautiful and refreshingly cool Ybanag Village highlighted by the La Cagayana cottage alongside the Ybanag and Ilocano cottages. The panoramic view of the gentle, at times turbulent Pinacanauan River complete with limestone formations can be viewed through a view deck. Concrete picnic tables around the resort were erected.
Aside from the Callao Caves, an open-air pavilion, a few meters away from the cottages, was constructed with an elevated stage. It became the toast of seminars, trainings, workshop, meetings and even private occasions- weddings especially. It was number one on the list under the column ‘venue’ for government agencies and the private sector.
Callao Attracts Filmmakers
The area was perfect. It provides a cool natural fresh air blown by the millions of trees from the Sierra Madre. Within the resort area, the various endemic faunas unashamedly greet the tourists led by the choir-like cicadas (Magicicada sp.), the Callao and other birds and the murmurs of the Pinacanauan River, a major tributary of the Rio De Cagayan.
The canyons facing the resort were like giant curtains dwarfing the picnickers and on its forested top, one can still see on naked eyes Philippine monkeys flirting with their playmates on trees. Why, even the fruit bats have declared ownership of a cave up over the limestones and converted it into a giant rest rooms. This writer is not privy as to what has happened to the guano caves.
During the incumbency of Dupaya, two movies- one local, one foreign – were shot inside the Callao Caves and its environs. These were the Reyna Films’ “Laruang Apoy” which starred the voluptuous and sexy star Alma Moreno, Filipino stud Vic Vargas and the producer of the film, Armida Siguion-Reyna. “Laruang Apoy” was shot in its entirety near the Lagum area and was premiered at the then-newly opened Eurasia Theater in Tuguegarao.
On sidebar, the opening credits of the film which showed the millions of nocturnal bats from the guano caves as they come out to feed on fruits and return at post-dawn , virtually covering the entire screen, was considered as one of the most memorable opening credits for Filipino films for many years to come.
In fact, inside the Eurasia Theater, the scene was applauded by an appreciate audience from Manila and elsewhere. For Hall of Fame awardee cinematographer Romy Vitug, it was one of his best shots in his entire career.
During the same period- 1970s- a film slated for international release came and shoot some parts in Callao Caves. The movie, “Golden Triangle” stars then Taiwan martial arts superstar Meng Fei, the newly crowned Miss World 1st runner-up Evangeline Pascual (mother of Paolo Ballesteros) and Eddie Garcia.
In the 1990s, Regal Films’ “Aguila Ng Cagayan” with Lito Lapid and Aiko Melendez was partially shot inside the caves with William Mayo at the helm. It also starred Cagayano Orestes Ojeda (Luis Pagalilauan).
Only recently, heartthrobs John Lloyd Cruz and Bea Alonzo shot their wedding scene for the movie “The Mistress” at the first chamber where a chapel had been established.
Words of Mouth
Compared to now, there was no outlandish promotions nor massive publicity from the provincial government. National media simply did features on it and magazines like Panorama of the Manila Bulletin did a cover story on the lady Dupaya calling her ‘Dancing Governor”.
By the time she bowed out of public service, the resort has become a by-word in the tourism industry country ranked by a prestigious tourism firm as number 8 in the Top Ten tourist destinations during its prime.
When Justice Justiniano Cortez took over in 1986, he constructed a two-storey dormitory type building which likewise enjoyed its heydays while it lasted. I haven’t visited that building for the last decade.
The pavilion is now a very pitiful sight with its stone-walled stage as sole witness to those good old days when foreign tourists were common. Most of the cottages need major repairs. The paints have long been erased by the elements.
The magic of Boracay, Palawan, Donsol, Cebu, Davao, Batanes and of late, the heritage town of Vigan virtually erased what was once a major destination: the Callao Caves.
The challenge now for the Mamba administration is to find ways and means to bring back the grandeur and fame of Cagayan’s tourism icon of yore. If we dare listen to the unspoken question, has the provincial government forgot there was once a thriving industry in the area?
While the provincial tourism office has worked till they break to sustain visibility of the resort, they can only do much as they only function based on what is approved and budgeted. Afterall, other areas in the province needs tourism nourishment, too.
Tourism stakeholders like us will now have to bank on the assurance of the Mamba administration that finally, Callao Caves Resort will once again be in a place she rightly deserves.
What really ailed the resort? The Mamba administration will try to find out.