Ozamiz, Without Prejudice

Right before I decided to go on the Ozamiz city tour organized by The Big Difference Communications and sponsored by Johann's Cuisine, friends warned me that it would be risky and that I should be careful. 

Thing is, I'm no stranger to Mindanao. In the mid-1990s I shot documentaries for the Presidential Broadcast Staff (RTVM) during the Ramos administration and that gave me a chance to visit almost every single province there. This was at the time when the GRP MNLF Peace Accord had yet to be forged and there was still a lot of fighting going around.

I knew the dangers of spending days and sometimes weeks in areas where people carried guns around like we do smartphones these days. I learned how to keep safe, even in areas where we were advised not to go, and that's why I'm fairly confident that I can handle myself in any kind of situation.

However, the risk I was taking in going to Ozamiz City was of a different sort and it has to do with the atmosphere of prejudice created by the current administrations public naming of people it suspects is involved in the illegal drug trade.

Along with the thousands of ordinary people accused of being either drug addicts, drug pushers, and drug dealers were politicians and celebrities. There is little information on the basis for accusing those named by the administration as illegal drug fiends except to say that intelligence indicated that they were.

Knowing a bit more about how intelligence is really gathered, I can tell you that it's not exactly like how the movies or fiction novels portray it to be. Intelligence doesn't always yield correct and accurate information, and some times, it could all be completely made up.

It didn't help the current administration that some of those they had accused turned out to be dead, retired, or turned out to be another person all together. Never mind the fact that a friend had actually pranked a neighbor of his into swearing before their barangay captain that he was not a drug addict or drug pusher.

Going back to the risks that my friends warned me about, some said that merely visiting Ozamiz city might get me tagged as a "person of interest" by the police and Duterte's zealous followers. Instead of making me apprehensive, the idea of going to Ozamiz City and actually meeting those whom Duterte accused of being involved in the illegal drug trade pricked my curiosity and excited me a bit.

One thing about me is that I am aware of my prejudices and I always try to see past them, taking people as well as situations at face value.

Given the way Mindanao has been portrayed over decades and even in recent months, I think the Duterte administration's efforts to get people to see this land of promise with new eyes will be instrumental. It was encouraging to see that the Department of Tourism itself had sent Assistant Secretary Ricky Alegre to visit Mayor Aldong Parojinog and Vice Mayor Princess Nova Parojinog.

It was a great chance for Assistant Secretary Alegre and Ozamiz City's local leadership to discuss means by which the city can capitalize on the anticipated surge in tourism brought about by the president's recent trip to China.

It was during a press conference with Mayor Aldong that Assistant Secretary Alegre said that tourists from the People's Republic of China would certainly be wowed by Ozamiz City's main attractions. It is a great eye opener into Filipino culture, which in this part of the Philippines is a distinct mix of Subanon and Spanish-Chinese cultures.

The wonderful thing about Ozamiz City is that it reminded me of every other small town I visited in the entire country and I almost immediately felt at ease.

Having been born and raised completely in the middle of Manila, going to small towns in provinces is really a treat for me. It's the only time I can really take in the various aspects of my Filipino culture and it helps me understand how I am the way I am.

The story of how Ozamiz City came to be is much like the story of Manila. According to one account, it was named after a type of palm just like Manila was named after a type of water lily. It grew out of a settlement within a natural harbor as did Manila. The native dwellers, the Subanons, welcomed the Spanish just as the kingdom of Manila welcomed them. And, just like Manila has Fort Santiago, Ozamiz city has a Spanish fort called Cotta.

Beyond these similarities, Ozamiz City is many wonderful things that Manila is not.

It is urbanized, yes -- but without the choking blight of traffic and crowds everywhere.  But you'd be a little disappointed if you're looking for malls like Glorietta or SM because you'll have to settle for Gaisano or one of their many other department stores, which aren't bad at all.

The bay outside the Cotta Fort is a black sand beach with clean water. A FRICKING BEACH where you can, if you wanted to, spend an entire day swimming in FREE OF CHARGE! (Which is simply an amazing thing and reminds me of the 70s when Manila still had Aroma Beach or Cescraft beach just a few kilometers away from Baclaran.)

Then, less than thirty minutes away from the city center is a fresh water spring resort and the Hoyohoy Organic Farm and Adventure Park.

Hoyohoy is very much like Tagaytay (except it is more accessible from the city) or like Antipolo (except that it hasn't lost its greenery). From the cool and misty viewing decks of Hoyohoy, you can see out into Panguil bay.

If you're in for a bit of a thrill you can ride what is perhaps one of the country's longest zip lines and from the landing area below, take a scenic horseback ride up lush emerald trails bordered with fragrant wild herbs and flowers.

Within the city itself are a couple of heritage sites that are truly worth visiting.

There's the century old Rodriguez mansion, the Cotta Fort and its museum, and the Cotta Shrine.

You can also have a spiritual journey of sorts at the Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral where its enormous pipe organ can inspire you into deep and fervent prayer.

All in all, I wouldn't mind going back to Ozamiz because I don't think I've explored it enough!
Ozamiz, Without Prejudice Ozamiz, Without Prejudice Reviewed by Paul Farol on 12:25 PM Rating: 5


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