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Pottery-making village boasts of a first clay altar - Tonette Orejas

Pottery-making village boasts of first clay altar
By Tonette Orejas
Central Luzon Desk
First Posted 20:55:00 08/22/2010

STO. TOMAS, Pampanga, Philippines –A village in this town has begun its bid to have its chapel declared as the site of the first terracotta retablo (main altar) in Central Luzon.
Ronaldo Tiotuico, regional director of the Department of Tourism, has visited the chapel at the invitation of Mayor Lito Naguit, said Teresita Juarez, barangay captain of Sto. Niño (formerly Sapa).

So far, what Tiotuico has confirmed is the claim that Sto. Niño has the first clay altar in Pampanga.

The Archdiocese of San Fernando and the Center for Kapampangan Studies of the Holy Angel University have yet to validate the claim, at least at the provincial and regional levels.
Juarez said the title is being sought on the 25th anniversary of the segregation of Sitio Sapa from Barangay San Matias in 1985.

Two priests, a volcanic eruption and the bayanihan (cooperation) of the people make up the story of a unique altar in a place originally named after a stream.
Sapa, already thriving from a homegrown pottery industry, did not have its own chapel in the 1970s.

The parish priest then, Fr. Benjamin Henson, began celebrating Masses at least once a month at the rice warehouse of Dominga Baluyut.

The warehouse became the venue of the local crusade for the Virgen de los Remedios and Cristo del Pardon, the patrons of Pampanga. In the same warehouse, Arsenio Santos taught catechism to young people.

Teenagers in the town, who call their group Korokan & Co., raised funds, enabling them to commission an artist in Macabebe to make a stone statue of the Sto. Niño (Child Jesus), Sapa’s patron.

By 1978, led by then Mayor Demetrio Pineda, Sapa found a new site for a chapel, which was built as slow or as fast as the residents raised money. In January 1985, the chapel was blessed and Sapa took on its patron’s name.

Mt. Pinatubo’s eruptions in 1991 and lahar flows in 1995 buried the chapel. The stream choked with volcanic debris, causing weekslong flood.

The new parish priest, Msgr. Eugene Reyes, began the reconstruction of the chapel in 2003. Again the residents put their fund-raising skills to work.

Juarez said a parishioner, Jerry Basilio, suggested using clay in making the altar.
“Among Gene was puzzled. He asked me to draw and explain. Others thought the idea was way off or it was grand. I simply wanted to use clay because we have many of that here and we have so many craftsmen to do it,” said Basilio, 47.

Soon an army of workers from the A. Baluyut Clay, CB Pottery, DJ Ceramics, Eliano Baluyut Pottery Inc., FB Ceramics, Hilaga Ceramics, L&G; Ceramics and Melquiades Ceramics descended on rice fields, digging for clay.

They fashioned and baked the earth to perfection along Basilio’s designs that were made with the guidance of Reyes.

Except for the statues of the Sto. Niño, Immaculate Conception and St. Matthias, everything in the main altar—casings, small columns and balustrades, walls, candle holders and ornaments—are made of clay.

The base of the minor altar and lectern also used clay.

Irwin Nucum of Kayaptas, a civil society group in Sto. Tomas, said Reyes achieved what he wanted—teach basic catechism through the images and symbols.

With a new retablo that is a feature of Pampanga churches in the times of the Augustinian Order, the chapel was dedicated by Archbishop Paciano Aniceto on Jan. 11, 2006, and blessed by Bishop Pablo Virgilio David on Oct. 14, 2007.

“The retablo is a very concrete expression of our Catholic faith, of how we work together. It is also a showcase of our artistry,” said Basilio. “Clay is not anymore just for plant pots.”


MANILA, Philippines—The Philippines is aiming to double tourism revenues in six years while avoiding the mass-market route taken by some of its Southeast Asian neighbors, the country’s new tourism secretary told AFP.

The archipelago of more than 7,000 islands boasts some of the world’s most beautiful white-sand beaches but annual tourist revenues are a paltry $2.25 billion, Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim said in an interview.

“We want double that, at least,” said Lim, a former high-end resort developer who was appointed to President Aquino’s Cabinet on June 30.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand estimates the country will earn 430 billion baht ($13 billion) from tourism in 2010, but Lim said, “I’m not sure whether I would like to emulate the Thai model.


“I would like to go for quality tourism and just make up for the lack of (tourist) numbers in revenues,” he said.

“Unbridled tourism is also bad because the environment suffers. So we are very careful about the type of tourism we want. The people who come for culture, history and nature, maybe we can receive them.”

While insisting that backpackers were still welcome, Lim noted that they did not spend a lot, adding that “they leave waste.”

The timeframe for doubling revenues is the six-year term of Aquino’s presidency.

Just over three million tourists visited the country last year, down 3.9 percent from 2008 as tourism worldwide retreated amid the global financial crisis.

Thai contrast

By contrast, tourist arrivals in Thailand, the industry leader in Southeast Asia, fell only 2.68 percent to 14.15 million last year, according to Thai government data.

Lim said the Philippine tourism industry had terrific potential, despite large areas of the south remaining off-limits to foreigners because of terror groups’ penchant for kidnapping.

He insisted the Philippines had fine-white beach sand superior to anything its neighbors could offer.

“The beaches in the Philippines are better than in Indonesia or Thailand,” he said.

New strategies

There were, however, many areas that needed to be improved to lure the high-paying tourists.

Improving air access and customer service, educating rude and at times dishonest taxi drivers, building good link roads and developing niche markets were some of the new government’s strategies, according to Lim.

“We’ll make them (tourists) stay longer, enjoy the Philippines, and to do this we will have to improve the product that we offer,” he said.

Lim’s first priority is to open up Philippine skies further.


He pointed out that there were three times as many flights between Japan and Thailand as between Japan and the Philippines.

“Access creates investments, investments create hotel facilities and that will also lower prices,” he said.

While government spending for the tourism sector rose during the past nine years of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration, Lim said the money was not targeted well and often rewarded supporters of the government.

“A problem of the past administration was the president, to keep herself in power, had to spread the budget thinly over different areas,” he said, citing instances where airports were built where they were not needed.


Lim singled out nature tourism as one niche sector that, aside from scuba diving, had not fulfilled its potential.

Lim also said that the Philippines should maximize its potential of being an English-speaking nation.

He said the Philippines should be able to attract more medical tourists who would feel comfortable with English-speaking doctors and nurses.

“They (Thailand) may offer better medical service, but people are anxious, right? They want to know what’s happening to them.”

Lim said that, while Filipino tour guides may speak English, they required more training and taxi drivers needed to improve their manners.

“Taxi drivers can speak English but there has to be some courtesy.”


Few visitors also get to experience the country’s rich cultural heritage since there are not that many museums to put artifacts on display, he said.

“We have so many beautiful artifacts that are sitting in warehouses. It’s really almost criminal that they go to waste, and they are deteriorating. We should get museums in the old style, operating in the old city,” he said.

Attractions like the white-sand beach of Boracay island, meanwhile, are suffering from overdevelopment, and the 3,000-year-old rice terraces carved from the mountainsides of Banaue in the north are crumbling, he said. (Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer, 07/12/2010)


The Tourism Congress welcomes the newly-appointed Secretary of the Department of Tourism Alberto Lim and at the same time wishes outgoing Secretary Ace Durano success in his new endeavors.

As an industry whose contributions to the economy has long been a given, the tourism stakeholders hope that the transitions will be smooth and easy. Coming in the wake of the implementation of the Tourism Act of 2009, adapting to these fast-paced changes can be challenging.

The new Secretary will take over this office at a critical stage. The industry has yet to learn how to do business where the rules have changed. It will also have to get to know the new leadership and the evolving policy directions. Given the strong management discipline that Sec. Lim brings with him in his new role, the collective hope is that he will be open to frank discussions of the issues from various viewpoints, impartially evaluate the opinions and information that he will get and take action that will be beneficial to the industry.

Welcome Secretary Alberto Lim!


MBC’s Alberto Lim, new DoT Secretary
June 29, 2010, 9:22pm
Manila Bulletin

Makati Business Club (MBC) Director Alberto Lim joins Wednesday President Aquino’s new government as Secretary of the Department of Tourism (DoT).

“I am very honored to be invited to join his (Aquino’s) Cabinet. In spite of the daunting challenges, I agreed to serve because of what Presidentelect Aquino stands for,” Lim said.

The business leader said that while he has always considered the late former President Corazon “Cory” C. Aquino and the martyred Senator Benigno “Ninoy” S. Aquino Jr. as heroes of democracy, it was only last year that he was acquainted with their son, Noynoy.

“I only became acquainted with the President-elect during the campaign when I was invited to join the policy committee to help craft a platform of government,” he said, recalling that it was Noynoy’s eldest sister Balsy (Maria Elena Aquino-Cruz) whom he first met.

Lim said the Liberal Party (LP) standard-bearer at that time made such an impression on him that he wished to help Noynoy’s cause against corruption.

“The DoT is not a frontline agency in the fight against corruption. It has a very small budget. Nevertheless, we will observe all good governance practices and make all transactions transparent. Anyone who intends to milk the agency will not find his efforts worthwhile,” Lim said.

His experience with tourism stems from to his part-time involvement in the past with several boards involved in tourism. He co-founded the Freedom to Fly Coalition, which advocated an open-skies policy as a strategy to promote economic development.

Moreover, he also became a member of the Civil Aeronautics Board.

“The position offered (DoT Secretary) presents a unique opportunity to develop tourism as a major engine for growth, providing jobs in the countryside, and helping reduce poverty,” Lim said.

He said he has already resigned as MBC president but plans to tap the influential business group for nation-building.

“I will invite MBC to be active together with other business groups and non-government organizations in making government much more accountable to the Filipino people than it has been in the current administration,” Lim said.

It was also Lim who founded the Palawan Tourism Council, which is responsible for Palawan’s rise as a veritable tourist destination.

He also founded the El Nido Foundation, which was responsible for the El Nido Protected Area Management Board that helps people in communities improve their way of living.

He also spearheaded the Corporate Network for Disaster Response after Indonesia’s 7.2 earthquake in 1990 sent tsunamis to surrounding islands.


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