By LYN V. RAMO
LUBANG, Occidental Mindoro — For an island town with 22,000 population, developing a sense of pride in the community is at the top agenda of the local chief executive.
Mayor Juan Sanchez, a retired military officer, is building the physical infrastructure of Lubang town, one of two island towns of the province’s 11 towns. The other town is Looc, also in the Lubang mainland.
Lubang made it to the headlines in the early 70’s when Japanese straggler Hiro-o Onoda ended his World War II assignment with his surrender on March 10, 1974. From 1944 he was fighting a war that he did not know had ended in 1945.
An alleged Marian apparition from 1966 to 1972 also put the islet of Cabra, a barangay of Lubang, into the limelight, especially among the faithful among Roman Catholics.
With its pristine forests and crystal clear waters in its white beaches, the island group has been a haven to nature lovers. Mayor Sanchez boasts of beautiful schools, auditoriums and plazas connected by concrete road networks extending up to Cabra Island.
In a 1974 book, Catholic priest and author Fr. Francis Albano said pilgrims to the Cabra Apparition site had blistered their feet in going up to the apparition hill from the seaport in Mahangkig. Now the road is paved in most parts, with patches left as dirt roads made up of crushed corals and fossilized giant clamshells called kima by locals.
He wanted to build infrastructure where people could gather and discuss among themselves, Mayor Sanchez said of the school project envisioned to build 160 rooms in 14 schools. He has built around 100 classrooms and is hoping to finish his target in no time.
“Most teenagers go to Manila after high school and they never return to Lubang,” a retired teacher from Cabra islet said. Most get scholarships from charitable institutions or go to a technical and vocational school that offer scholarships. Others worked their way to college.
According to Sanchez, the people of Lubang have to have a high sense of pride in the community for them to be able to exude that pride to attract other people to invest in Lubang, now being peddled as a paradise destination for both local and foreign tourists.
Locals, however, see the lack of communication and transportation facilities as a hindrance to the development of people in the islands.
Only a few vessels ferry people and cargoes to and from the island. Ferry schedules to Manila and Batangas ports are irregular especially during inclement weather.
Composed of four major islands and several islets, Luband Island is located northwest of the northern end of Mindoro Island, southwest of Batangas and west-south-west offshore of Manila.
Lubang, the largest island of the Lubang chain of islands, is about 300 square kilometers in area. The three other islands are Golo, Ambil and Cabra.
Although an average Lubang couple earns a measly P1,000 to P5,000 a month, rare is a family who claims to be poor. To them the poor are those unable to eat three square meals a day. Because they still have snacks sometimes, they do not consider themselves poor.
Sanchez said the sense of pride in the place would eventually sink in on most residents.
He is working now on a project he calls “One Laptop per Child,” which he has negotiated with a group of individuals in the US and a European non-government organization.
As a pilot project, he said each Grade IV pupil of two elementary schools would get one laptop in June. Pupils of Lubang Integrated School and Maligaya Elementary School will benefit in the pilot project. It will teach the pupils and their families how to use the computer and the Internet.
The Arroyo administration wants Lubang as a tourist destination and is planning to convert parts of the Gozar Air Station on Mount Ambulong as world-class hotel complex to cater to tourists.
The air station, at an elevation of some 1,300 feet above sea level, is the second highest in the country, next to the Pasuquin Air Station in Ilocos Sur. Only some 30 soldiers are left manning the facilities since its radars broke down in the late 90’s. (Bulatlat.com)