CALICOAN Island (PLDT-WeRoam) – I do not surf, not yet anyway, but watching the surfers enjoying themselves, I wish I were out there with them meeting with a big splash the warm waters of the Pacific.
Eastern Samar Gov. Ben Evardone brought me to this island paradise to show, he said, that the country is replete with still unspoiled seaside retreats that could give the usual resorts a run for their money.
This site, one of the islands in Guiuan town, has been declared by President Gloria Arroyo no less as a surfing destination. The fourth leg of the national surfing competition was held here last October.
Ben, a media colleague from way back, said this is the point in the Visayas that is first to greet the dawn when it creeps in from the Pacific. Having threatened to camp on this fine beach tonight, I will have a chance to check that out.
There are a number of cottages on the long impeccable beach, complete with amenities that can meet the requirements of discriminating travelers. The rate ranges from P1,000 to P2,500 a night.
Non-surfers like me who would rather wade, walk around or swim can walk to the other side and enjoy the calmer waters of Leyte gulf.
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POTENTIALS: I have a feeling Ben has in mind calling attention to the tourism potentials of charming Calicoan. He was telling me earlier of striking a balance between developing this area into a destination without allowing it to fall prey to tourism pollution.
There is a long (2.7 kms) airstrip nearby, built by the United States during the last war but abandoned when it lost its strategic importance. Guiuan can upgrade this air link to Manila and other key destinations in the region.
Meantime, those who want to be among the first to have a taste of Calicoan can fly Philippine Airlines or Cebu Pacific. There are daily Manila-Tacloban flights. After crossing San Juanico bridge by bus, one continues on a two-hour easy ride along the scenic coast.
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NO BIG NEWS: Ben was saying that the story of Eastern Samar is something one does not read on Page One or see among the top stories on primetime TV. There are no violent crimes, deadly calamities or government hanky-panky to talk about, he said.
But it is a story that has a positive impact on Estehanons, which is how Eastern Samar folk are called, because it is the tale of a bucolic province that has "graduated" from the sorry ranks of "Club 20" made up of the 20 poorest provinces in the country.
Reports about the peso rally, the bullish run of the stock market, a manageable deficit and the country’s sovereign credit rating upgrade by the top three global agencies – Moody’s Service, Fitch Ratings and Standard’s & Poor – point to a Philippine economy on a mend.
But the critics are wont to say that the rosy figures are nothing but cold statistics to an overwhelming majority among the grassroots.
This is not exactly true, however, as the story of Eastern Samar as I heard it from Ben shows. It provides lessons to local government executives on how to fast track plans and programs to help their provinces "graduate" from "Club 20" or keep them from landing on the list.
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GRADUATION: The 41st founding anniversary of Eastern Samar days ago was a sort of "coming out" party for the province.
Under the leadership of governor Ben, Eastern Samar has managed to move from 17th to 39th place in the list of the country’s poorest provinces.
Based on the Technical Committee on Poverty Statistics of the National Statistical Coordinating Board, which surveys the poverty incidence in all of the 79 provinces, Eastern Samar is one of the very few provinces that has significantly reduced poverty
The Board reported that Eastern Samar posted a double-digit decline in poverty incidence from 45.8 percent to 33 percent over a three-year period. This means a reduction in the number of poor households by almost 12 for every 100 families.
This gives the province the status of being the best performer among the eight provinces of Region VIII.
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GIVING CREDIT: In basic education in school year 2005-2006, for instance, the province placed second in the overall ranking of the National Achievement Test administered by the Department of Education.
One crucial factor for this impressive showing was the provincial government’s decision to hire hundreds of teachers to augment the DepEd teaching force here.
Ben said the success story of his province would not have been possible on his watch without the full cooperation and support of the national government , the local governments in the province, the private sector and foreign donor institutions such as the Asian Development Bank and the European Union.
He said: "The impressive performance of the province in poverty reduction may be attributed to the focused and sustained efforts of both the national and local governments as well as the private sector and foreign donor agencies in uplifting the lives of Estehanons."
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WHAT’S UP: With the improved peace and order and the poverty reduction programs either in place or already in the works, the governor is optimistic that the economic status of his once impoverished province will turn for the better in the few years ahead.
A massive rural infrastructure buildup is under way. Ben took out a list that included:
1. P127 million worth of farm-to-market roads in Borongan, Llorente, San Julian, Maydulong, Hernani, General MacArthur and Quinapondan, under the Department of Agrarian Reform-Asian Development Bank-Agrarian Reform Community Projects (DAR-ADB-ARCP), which have already been completed or are still under construction in thee seven towns.
2. P89 million worth of proposed irrigation projects in Borongan, Sulat and Oras.
3. P183 million worth of farm-to-market roads in Dolores and Can-avid, covered by the Infrastructure for Rural Productivity Enhancement Sector (INFRES) under the Department of Agriculture.
Ben said he has a lot to thank President Arroyo for the timely release of the funds needed for these agriculture-friendly projects.
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OTHER PROJECTS: Ben also talked about the P650-million Health Sector Investment Plan to be implemented in January 2007. The province has been chosen by the Department of Health and the European Union as one of 16 provinces covered by the Health Sector Reform Agenda (HSRA).
This is a five-year plan to expand the delivery of primary health care. It addresses the need gaps earlier identified by the 26 rural health units and 12 hospitals in Eastern Samar. It will cover the priority investment areas for health development that had been identified by the 23 LGUs, now clustered into five Inter-Local Health Zones.
Just recently, he signed legislation aimed at improving child welfare and another one that seeks to transform the province into a magnet for foreign and local investments alike.
Provincial Order No. 6, or the Eastern Samar Investment Incentive Code, is designed to encourage the entry of investments that will create local jobs and tap indigenous raw materials and other natural resources that are abundantly grown in the province.
On the other hand, the Revised Comprehensive Children’s Welfare Code seeks to put flesh to the "First Call for Children" principle spelled out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, by protecting young Estehanons from all forms of child abuse, exploitation and discrimination.
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HOMECOMING: Holy Angel University High School Class ‘56 will hold its homecoming 6 p.m. Dec. 30, a Saturday, at the HAU gym. The Golden Jubilarians (Pillars ’56) will be honored by the Silver Jubilarians (Crossroads ’81) according to tradition. The day will start with a Mass at the HAU chapel, followed by a motorcade proceeding to a lunch party at the Batis Asul on MacArthur Hiway.
Other activities: picnic, Jan. 2, Meng Rivera Gomez orchard; Jan. 3, Teresa’s function hall, Teresa Ave.; outing, Villa Escudero, San Pablo City, or Fort Ilocandia, Laoag City; despedida party, Jan. 7.
More information from: Soledad Ocampo-Flores, class president, (6345) 3229656; Raquel Pangilinan Frye (6345) 888-8589/322-2259; Donna Lansangan Melchor, (63) 916-7380465, (6345) 8888969; Luz Bustos MacArthur, firstname.lastname@example.org, (860) 8163300; October Gueco Bansil, Obansil@aol.com, (847) 3598889, (847) 2088829; Baby (Miling) Dungca, Gardenia, CA, (310) 3234992, 5949753.
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