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Discovering the whale sharks of Oslob, Cebu

Swimming with sea creatures like the butanding can be… magical. It can give you various insights – e.g. how “small” we all are, even inconsequential in the scheme of things; how beautiful nature can be, perhaps especially if left untouched; and how we continue to be in dire need of education re nature and how we can use it without necessarily destroying it.

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There are two sites in the Philippines that are popularly known to provide people (i.e. tourists) the chance to “interact” with the famed gentle giants of the seas, the whale sharks (i.e. “butanding”) – Donsol, Sorsogon and Oslob, Cebu. And based on personal experience in visits to both sites, there are pros and cons worth considering. These pros and cons, not incidentally, are largely driven by profiteering from a natural wonder…

Dancing with the butanding1

Dancing with the butanding2
Dancing with the butanding3
Dancing with the butanding4

In Donsol – as we’ve written in the past – profiteering can be seen in treachery (for the lack of a better word). That is, the butanding only visit the small fishing village a few months in a year; but even off-peak, the locals (who have become the tourist guides) will still claim that they can “look” for the giants of the sea with you. This means paying them X amount of money (for the “professional” fees, rent of the bangka, rent of equipment, et cetera) as you basically waste your time looking for what’s not there. If you’re really, really eager to look for the butanding, they ask for more money so you can search again the next days – again, even if they already know that the butanding has long gone.

In Oslob, profiteering can be seen in the “conversion” of the butanding. This place can be likened to an aquarium (or even a “natural” zoo); and the butanding, mere “pets” on leash. Yes, you will see the butanding here for sure, since they hardly ever leave the place. The locals have “tamed” them by incessantly feeding them; this “easy” life sort of forced them to just stay here.

It is, therefore, hard to support – or even promote – this form of eco-tourism.

This is, I suppose, the “tricky” part.

We recognize various facets of the promotion of Oslob as an eco-destination to interact with the butanding.

There’s the providing of employment to the locals (who would otherwise kill the fish for their meat, a source of livelihood for many in the past). Nowadays, it is not uncommon to hear these fishermen-turned-tourist guides as staunch caretakers of the seas’ bounties (butanding included); and hearing them claim that protecting the seas IS a way of protecting the fishermen and their families is (admittedly) heartening…

There’s the issue of the “taming” of the butanding, with animal rights activists right in claiming that this approach is basically ruining natural order. The butanding are wild animals; and with this “arrangement”, they are now turned into “pets” that seem to solely exist for the benefit of those who want to earn from them (and yes, those who pay to see them).

Alas, no, Oslob shows how we have yet to find a “common ground” (if it can be called that). That is, we have yet to really find comprehensive solutions to the issues besetting the fishermen and their families (helmed by their lack of consistent sources of earnings) so that they continue “taming” the butanding (in the guise of giving people the chance to learn more about the need to protect these giants).

A discussion is, indeed, needed for the “solutions” regarding this to be comprehensive.

In the meantime, for those in Cebu City who are keen to encounter the butanding, here are some must-know points:

  1. To go to Oslob, head to South Terminal in Cebu City. There, there are buses heading to Oslob (even as early as 1:00AM), taking from three to four hours (depending on the traffic conditions). Airconditioned bus fare is P165. Note that the “feeding” of the butanding (more on that in a bit) only happens from 6:00AM to 12:30PM, so the earlier you go there, the better it will be for you. We left Cebu City at 2:30AM, and when we arrived in Oslob just after 6:00AM, there were already lots of tourists.
  2. Tell the konduktor (in the Philippines, the person who gives the tickets and collects the fare) that you are getting off at BCD’s Resort, which is right beside the registration area for the butanding
  3. When you get off the bus, there is a registration area (the two resorts there can also help here). You go inside and then pay the fees – i.e. P500 for locals (Filipinos) who want to swim with the butanding/P300 for those who will only watch from the bangka and P1,000 for foreigners who want to swim with the whale sharks (the fee includes the bangka ride, flippers and the goggles). You can pay an additional P550 for the bangkero to take your pics while you swim with the whale sharks (the files can be saved into your Android phone, and saved in a CD).
  4. You will then be taken to the take-off area, where some educating happens (e.g. that every swim lasts only for 30 minutes, that you to keep your distance from the butanding, not to use chemical-laden sunblock, no splashing in the waters, not to panic when the shark seems to head your way, and so on). As a side note, you can get scratchies while in the waters; so if you’re allergic to bites of se creatures, bring anti-histamine with you…
  5. You will then be given your vests, hauled into a bangka, and then the bangkero-cum-photographer paddles only a few meters from the shore. Here, all the bangka loaded with tourists line up. Another bangka passes by all the tourists, with this one’s bangkero incessantly feeding a butanding. It is when this butanding passes by your own bangka that the “interaction” happens, making it – basically – a displaying of an animal on a leash (the “leash” here the food it is given).
  6. After 30 minutes, you are told that the interaction is done, told to return to your bangka, and then head back to the shore. THE. SWIM. WITH. THE. BUTANDING. IS. DONE.

Dancing with the butanding5
Dancing with the butanding6
Dancing with the butanding7
Dancing with the butanding8

Swimming with sea creatures like the butanding can be… magical. It can give you various insights – e.g. how “small” we all are, even inconsequential in the scheme of things; how beautiful nature can be, perhaps especially if left untouched; and how we continue to be in dire need of education re nature and how we can use it without necessarily destroying it.

And I suppose these insights need to be constantly communicated to us (hammered, even, into our consciousness) everytime we deal with nature; in this case, while bringing out the ‘sirena’ in us. Because if not, then our supposedly “win-win” approach to eco-tourism is in dire need of being reconsidered…

Dancing with the butanding10
Dancing with the butanding9

M.D. dela Cruz Tan is the founder of Zest Magazine. And no, the initials (i.e. M.D.) do not make him a "medical doctor" (as many have erroneously thought in the past); he is actually a graduate of Bachelor of Arts (Communication Studies) of the University of Newcastle in New South Wales Australia (just don't ask when, he says). He can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (of course), shoot flicks, community-organize, facilitate, lecture, research (with pioneering studies under his belt)... this one's a multi-tasker, who is even conversant in Filipino Sign Language. Cross his path is the dare (read: It won't be boring).

Destinations

Embrace the city’s pulse with Citadines Living

Citadines emerges as a haven for those seeking a genuine city living experience, blending comfort and convenience seamlessly. The brand invites you to embark on an urban adventure, so you don’t just visit the city, you get to live it and explore infinite possibilities.

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As travel and hospitality continue to evolve, Citadines emerges as a haven for those seeking a genuine city living experience, blending comfort and convenience seamlessly. The brand invites you to embark on an urban adventure, so you don’t just visit the city, you get to live it and explore infinite possibilities. 

Citadines: Fostering the Love For Cities

More than just a place to stay, Citadines embodies a lifestyle crafted for guests in search of a home away from home. With a global presence, Citadines stands out by creating a space where comfort, convenience, and style come together for the love of cities. 

Citadines adds its unique charm to prominent destinations through various properties in the Philippines, including Citadines Bay City Manila, Citadines Salcedo Makati, Citadines Millennium Ortigas Manila, Citadines Cebu City, Citadines Amigo Iloilo, Citadines Roces Quezon City, and upcoming locations like Citadines Bacolod City (opening on March 2024) and Citadines Paragon Davao (opening on December 2024).

Each location acts as a gateway for exploration, providing convenient entry to corporate offices, entertainment districts, dining venues, and vibrant shopping centers. Whether it’s the dynamic streets of Makati City or the business hub of Quezon City, Citadines creates the perfect backdrop for a fully engaging urban adventure.

Citadines Benavidez Makati: A Modern Oasis

Citadines Benavidez Makati blends modernity and comfort with its 207 meticulously designed units, ranging from the cozy Studio Deluxe to the expansive Two-Bedroom Premier. Guests are welcomed into contemporary interiors featuring fully equipped kitchens, plush bedding, high-speed Wi-Fi, and state-of-the-art flat-screen TVs. The property’s unique charm extends beyond its physical spaces as a dedicated team of “Citazens,” local experts ready to unveil the city’s hidden gems, are available to help guests through their stay. 

Culinary delights await at Catalogue, the property’s all-day dining restaurant, offering a tantalizing fusion of local and international cuisines. With a thoughtfully curated menu spanning various regions and cultures, Catalogue elevates the dining experience, contributing to the overall sense of comfort and sophistication at Citadines Benavidez Makati. The rooftop swimming pool and fitness corner with panoramic city views further enhance the urban oasis, catering to both business and leisure travelers.

Citadines Roces Quezon City: A Haven in the Former Capital

In the pulsating corners of Metro Manila’s largest city and former capital, Citadines Roces Quezon City takes center stage with 185 thoughtfully appointed apartments – from spacious studios to comfortable two-bedroom units. Each space is curated with modern amenities, ensuring a comfortable and enjoyable stay for every urban explorer.

The interiors of each apartment incorporate clean lines, contemporary furnishings, and a harmonious color palette to create an ambiance that is both inviting and stylish. The design inspiration draws from the pulsating rhythm of urban life, with nods to the rich cultural heritage of Quezon City. Subtle touches echo the vibrant art scene and historical landmarks, creating a seamless blend of modernity and tradition within the living spaces.

Citadines Roces Quezon City takes pride in its array of facilities designed to elevate the overall experience. The fitness center, equipped with state-of-the-art equipment, invites guests to maintain their health and well-being even amidst a busy city schedule. The swimming pool, residents’ lounge, and rooftop bar with panoramic city skyline views become extensions of the living space, providing opportunities for relaxation and socialization. Whether it’s a refreshing dip in the pool, casual conversations in the residents’ lounge, or sipping a drink while enjoying the cityscape from the rooftop bar, each amenity adds a layer of richness to the urban living experience.

Loven Ramos, Director of Brand and Marketing of The Ascott Limited Philippines, expressed the brand’s vision: “Our goal is to curate spaces that inspire a genuine connection with the heartbeat of cities, creating an environment where guests not only reside but truly thrive in the love for the dynamic energy, cultural richness, and endless possibilities each city holds. With Citadines, we aim to cultivate a deep appreciation that transforms stays into love stories with the cities we call home.”

Both Citadines Benavidez Makati and Citadines Roces Quezon City embody the brand’s commitment to fostering love for cities, inviting guests on business or leisure trips to not just visit the city but live in it – whether it’s for a night, a week, a month, or a lifetime.

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Dining Out

Lanson Place Mall of Asia, Manila announces offerings

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As the Chinese New Year approaches, Lanson Place Mall of Asia, Manila invites you to welcome the Year of the Wood Dragon with a delightful fusion of romance and tradition just in time for Valentine’s. This 10 and 11 February 2024, experience the vibrant festivities that will set the stage for a prosperous year ahead.

The heart of Lanson Place will come alive with the rhythmic beats of the traditional lion and dragon dance, ushering in good energy and fortune. Guests are welcome to join the traditional performance starting at 10:59 AM on 10 February, creating an auspicious atmosphere for a year full of joy and abundance. Following the ceremony, guests are welcome to join us at the 3F lobby and Cyan Modern Kitchen for the ceremonial Yee Sang or Prosperity Toss, a symbolic ritual headed by Executive Chef Kristine Oro, beckoning luck and good fortune leading the guests to a Prosperity Feast at Cyan Modern Kitchen.

CYAN Modern Kitchen: Tradition Meets Romance

Take the chance to win lucky prizes from the Tree of Luck and Love when you indulge in a delectable lunch or dinner for every single transaction of P8,888 at the CYAN Modern Kitchen, setting in motion a year of good luck.

Treat yourself to a delightful meal at Cyan Modern Kitchen to please your senses and revel in the captivating ambience while savouring a sumptuous Chinese New Year lunch buffet or an equally enticing dinner buffet for PHP 2,888 net per person.

As the sun sets on the Lunar New Year celebrations, Lanson Place transforms into a haven for lovers. A romantic evening waits for a Valentine’s Day experience with a specially curated 4-course dinner, followed by a tempting dessert buffet for PhP 3,800 net per person. 

Let the contemporary charm of Cyan Modern Kitchen captivate you, where floor-to-ceiling windows frame the scenic vistas of the Manila Bay, the city skyline, and the courtyard, crafting dining spaces that define Lanson Place Mall of Asia. Celebrate in the warmth of February by sharing moments of laughter, love, delectable fare, and abundance with your loved ones this 10 to 14 February 2024.

Extending the celebration through a relaxing stay? Lunar Escape Room Package, rates start at PHP9,888+++ per room per night for two persons inclusive of welcome amenities, buffet breakfast, lunch or dinner buffet at Cyan Modern Kitchen.

Embrace love with our Valentine’s Room Package, rates start at PHP 10,900+++ per room per night inclusive of welcome amenities, buffet breakfast, and 4-course Set Dinner for two persons at Cyan Modern Kitchen.

Grab these promos for the booking period of January 28 to February 8, 2024 through the official website now, and indulge in the perfect blend of tradition and romance at Lanson Place Mall of Asia, Manila. 

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Travel

Philippines as the country with the world’s largest bats

“The Philippines has 79 recorded bat species, half of them endemic,” explains Dr. Mariano Roy Duya of the University of the Philippines Institute of Biology (UPIB). North America, with a land area that is 66 times larger – has but 45. We have an incredible diversity of bats since each of our 7100 islands is geographically unique. And of course, we have the largest bat of all.”

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By Gregg Yan

Did you know that the largest bat of all is found only in the Philippines? Planet Earth has 1400 known bat species and the Golden-crowned Flying Fox (Acerodon jubatus) earns the top spot for size and weight. Known locally as kabog, it is endemic or found nowhere else but in the Philippines.

Strikingly patterned with a golden cap, reddish fur and chocolate-brown wings, adults weigh over a kilogram and can boast of a wingspan nearly two meters across – longer than most people are tall.

“The Philippines has 79 recorded bat species, half of them endemic,” explains Dr. Mariano Roy Duya of the University of the Philippines Institute of Biology (UPIB). North America, with a land area that is 66 times larger – has but 45. We have an incredible diversity of bats since each of our 7100 islands is geographically unique. And of course, we have the largest bat of all.”

Once widespread throughout undisturbed lowland forests across the country, hunting and deforestation – particularly from slash-and-burn upland farming or kaingin – have whittled down bat populations.

Dumaguete-based filmmaker Rhiyad Maturan and I were recently invited by the Energy Development Corporation (EDC) to film a thriving kabog colony inside the Bacon-Manito Geothermal Project, a heavily forested geothermal reservation nestled between the provinces of Albay and Sorsogon on the island of Luzon. Though the area is now verdant and alive, it wasn’t always so.

“Believe it or not, that entire mountain range was once logged-over,” says Ed Jimenez, corporate relations head for EDC’s Bacon-Manito Geothermal Project, pointing at well-forested hills nearby. “The only trees left were the ones loggers ignored. To bring the mountains back to life, we worked with the local communities to help reforest this area while providing them with an alternative source of income. Decades later, the organizations we helped form, like the Alliance of Bacman Farmer’s Association Inc. Agriculture Cooperative (formerly ALBAFAI) and the Bacman Host Community Multi-purpose Cooperative (BMPC), have become some of our most passionate champions. Even the grandchildren of the original members are helping us plant trees, promote community-based conservation and protect these forests.”

Aside from bats, Bicol’s forests also shelter wild deer, pigs, monkeys and birds – most of which were driven to remote areas by decades of hunting and forest loss.

“I learned to shoot kabog with an airgun when I was still a kid,” recalls Joseph ‘Doy’ Gabion, a former bat hunter. “Bats are easy to hunt by day because they hang upside down from their roosts. When the roosts were eventually protected by EDC and its conservation partners, we hunters had to wait until the bats flew out to their feeding grounds. Back in the 1990s, my uncle and I would wait for them to pass to be able to catch two or three bats a night. Kabog meat has a slightly woody taste.” Doy has since stopped hunting and now volunteers with the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ CAFGU Active Auxiliary Unit II to help protect the very animals he once hunted.

The kabog colony moves from one area to another within the Bacman reservation and we chanced upon them roosting on a grove of pine-like Agoho (Casuarina spp.) trees. “We have about 700 kabog individuals here now, our flagship fauna species for this site,” explains Forester Neil Miras, EDC Bacman’s watershed management officer.

Representing iconic wildlife found in its geothermal, solar and wind sites, EDC’s Flagship Species Initiative (FSI) aims to popularize some of the nation’s lesser-known forest denizens. The eight other flagship species include the Philippine Warty Pig (Sus philippensis)Visayan Hornbill (Penelopides panini)Apo Myna (Goodfellowia miranda), plus native trees like Mapilig (Xanthostemon bracteatus), Katmon Bayani (Dillenia megalantha), Red Lauan (Shorea negrosensis),Almaciga (Agathis philippinensis)andIgem-dagat (Podocarpus costalis). EDC has been planting native trees across the country since the 1980s.

“Though millions of trees have been planted under the BINHI Program, we should still recognize the importance and effectiveness of natural seed dispersion – either by the wind, water or by local wildlife,” explainsForester Abegail Gatdula, EDC-FSI project manager. “Flying animals like birds and bats eat the fruits of various forest trees and disperse them far and wide within life-giving guano bombs, giving the seeds a vital headstart.”  

Though not as popular as the Tamaraw or Philippine Eagle, the kabog has been quietly doing its part to make the Philippines greener. “Think of them as the ‘silent seed planters’ of nature. We never pay them but they keep working for our world,” concludes Jean Dayap, Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Officer (MENRO) of Manito in Albay.  

So tonight, please look up at the night sky to thank our uncelebrated wildlife heroes, quietly working the night shift to make the Philippines a little greener – one guano bomb at a time.

Watch our Golden-crowned Flying Fox documentary HERE.

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