Wednesday, March 21, 2012

In Bataan, a mountain resort to rest mind, soul

ORANI, Bataan—High up in the mountain ranges of Bataan, a paradise rests on the slopes of Mt. Natib, which showcases the harmony of environmental sensitivity and economic development.

Lawyer Federico Pascual, former president of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and one of the shareholders of Sinagtala Farm Resort and Retreat Park, says the breathtaking views of the plains of Central Luzon offered by Sinagtala to visitors were not immediately obvious to the owners when they acquired the property.

“The land was mostly covered with cogon and many years passed before we really looked at the place and did something about it. Our architect was the one that saw it—if we go to the edge of the property, near the cliff, there is a great view. Why don’t we look at the prospect of making this a tourism area, we thought?” Pascual says.

Now, only two years after starting development, Sinagtala in Orani town is one of the most scenic hideaways in Central Luzon, with an infinity pool overlooking the mountains, a multipurpose hall under construction, a chapel, a wellness facility and housing structures for guests.

Pascual says the 13 shareholders of Sinagtala pooled their money to develop the area. “We paved the road, brought water and electricity to the area, among other improvements. After a while, the beauty of the place became obvious,” he says.

He says Sinagtala can rival retreat facilities in Tagaytay, Batangas and Antipolo cities, “so people from Central Luzon won’t have to go there.”

In keeping with the environmental agenda of Sinagtala, its owners have agreed to use only a portion of the lot for building structures.

Felicito Payumo, chair of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority and one of the prime movers of Sinagtala’s development, says the resort and farm cover about 50 hectares, but only 25 ha are allotted for structures.

“We’re not touching the rest. It’s beautiful here, it’s a place where you can rest your mind and soul,” he says.

With an elevation of 500 meters above sea level, Sinagtala is on top of one of the “five fingers” of a ravine.

“At night, you can see the stars brightly shining, that’s why the place is called Sinagtala,” Payumo says.

He says the place will offer visitors a place to relax and enjoy nature and an ecotourism area for adventure seekers.

“We’re going to develop an ecotourism area where young folks can enjoy nature and engage in various activities, like hiking, camping, rappelling and such. We’re also going to build a zipline here,” he says.

Architect Nestor David, the chief designer of Sinagtala, says the resort could accommodate mixed-use development, with the theme of environmental protection.

Aside from the allure of nature, David says the area is a farm where about 12,000 coffee and other fruit trees, vegetables and ornamentals grow.

“Consistent with the ecotourism thrust of Sinagtala, even our building technology and materials are environmentally friendly. We use bamboo for our walls, even the roofs are made of bamboo. That’s made of cement bonded board, with bamboo shavings and 50 percent recycled agricultural waste,” he says.

He says the host community would benefit, through livelihood activities, if there is tourism development here. “When people see what we’ve done here, even the locals are surprised. They can’t believe there is something like this in Bataan. Our water comes from the mountains, miles away. We have fire hydrants, using gravity flow,” he says.

David, who is also a pioneer in environmental design and planning in the country, says the group allowed the place to unravel itself.
Places to go in Philippines

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