Pride in Philippine heritage
Most Outstanding Tourism O cer of the Philippines Bryan Jason Borja

Pride in Philippine heritage

Dulce Sanchez (The Philippine Star) - January 5, 2020 - 12:00am

This year’s Most Outstanding Tourism Officer of the Philippines, Bryan Jason Borja of Biñan, Laguna, may be considered one of the country’s most fervent advocates for cultural tourism.

Borja was chosen just as the organizers of the search, now in its 14th year, focused more on culture-based tourism.

“Looking into it, much of our tourism programs and promotions are related and rooted in our culture. We cannot promote what we don’t have. Culture is our treasure that can’t be taken away from us,” said Arwin Lingat, chair of the Association of Tourism Officers of the Philippines-Department of Tourism Pearl Awards 2019.

For Lingat, Borja stood out among this year’s crop of nominees due to his contributions outside the mandated role.

“Performing according to the role is the expectation but it’s going beyond the job description that made BJ Borja stand out,” he said.

Biñan won this year’s Best Tourism Event Festival, a testament to the efforts made by Borja and his team.

Borja, who has been Biñan’s tourism officer for the past three years, said its City Culture, History, Arts and Tourism Office’s projects are meant to fulfill its vision of “a city that is aware of its cultural, historical and artistic heritage towards sustainable tourism.”

“Why aware? Syempre you have to be aware of what are these cultural activities, why do we celebrate them. Visibility first and understanding the reason why, and then making them part of that why, so eventually love for the city and its efforts and advocacies will follow,” he added.

Borja said once they were able to make Biñanenses love the projects, the task for the city’s tourism officers would be to nurture that love by making activities in the community relevant to the people.

He cited projects such as the establishment of the Sentrong Pangkultura ng Biñan, now a Cultural Center of the Philippines regional arts center; and the revitalization of the Puto Latik Festival, a two-time ATOP-DOT Pearl Awards awardee for Best Tourism Event.

Another project Borja cited is cultural mapping, in which the BCHATO works with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts to identify and preserve the city’s cultural resources.

“Best to mention also that I travel everywhere in the Philippines to talk about Biñan’s culture — that’s the best way to keep culture relevant, to talk and converse about it and have people involved in the conversations,” he said. 

In the pipeline

Under the administration of Mayor Arman Dimaguila and Vice Mayor Gel Alonte, the city government is reviving the Biñan Heritage District, a street that includes the city plaza with heritage structures, according to Borja.

“We are posing Biñan as the ‘Vigan’ destination of the south,” he said.

The city government is also crafting a 10-year tourism master plan “para hindi sumabog yung ginawa namin in the last three years (so what we accomplished in the last three years would not be wasted),” Borja said.

 Borja’s personal dream is to launch a performing arts center, a theater with training spaces to house all of Biñan’s performing groups and host regular performance seasons for theater, dance and music.

Biñan currently has eight local groups, including Borja’s 15-year-old theater group Youth Performing Council.

 As a tourism officer, Borja believes all regions should have a tourism master plan to identify each region’s major selling points.

“Also with that we can check and assess at what point are we ready to accept local and international tourists because we want to avoid our natural heritage being compromised,” he said.

Borja also said that while the Philippines, being an archipelago, has a diverse set of tourist attractions, “due to lack of knowledge, we end up competing against each other. Instead of us being able to promote our region’s unique tourism gems, we just promote what is easy or what is common to the rest.”

Without naming names, he said tourism offices need to hire qualified people to lead.

“Spare tourism, culture and the arts from politics — this is our soul. Can you imagine if we have poor tourism management, poor management of cultural and artistic resources? Para tayong bansang walang mukha! It’s losing an identity. A character, if you are to compare it to a person,” Borja said. 

His background in theater ( he earned a bachelor’s degree in theater arts at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman, Quezon City) — taught him discipline, responsibility, “how to turn passion into influence” and trained him to “think creatively and differently in all the things I do.”

“As you grow older, as you take on bigger roles, I come to realize that now my ‘why’ becomes doing it for the country, for the Filipinos because they deserve to feel proud of their heritage and their culture,” he said. “I want to be able to train and develop more people who have so much love for the country that I can give them opportunities in which their love can be translated into tourism advocacies."

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