By Michelle Anne P. Soliman, Reporter

IT WAS a few minutes past 7 p.m. when spectators gathered to watch young Pandanggo sa Ilaw dancers performing in the streets of Calapan, Oriental Mindoro at the 2019 Pandang Gitab (Festival of Lights) on April 27.

Pandanggo sa ilaw (fandango with lights), a traditional dance which involves dancers performing while carrying and balancing lighted candles, originated in Lubang island. Old stories tell that fishermen would come to shore following the light of the candles women would be holding at dawn to guide their path. The ritual included dancing as a symbol of security and abundance in fishing.

Since 2001, the pandanggo sa ilaw has been performed as a street dance and it served as the primary tourist attraction for the province’s 51st founding anniversary.

This year, the festival had six groups participating from the city of Calapan and the municipalities of Socorro, Baco, and Pola. Each group had 60 to 100 performers who danced a route stretching from the Calapan City Plaza to the Oriental Mindoro National High School.

According to Oriental Mindoro tourism officer Dhon Calda, this year was the first time they held the festival in April since February, which is when the festival is held, was unusually rainy.

The festival was recognized as a representation of the Oriental Mindoro’s cultural heritage through Provincial Ordinance No. 25 passed in 2012.

The province of Oriental Mindoro is located in MIMAROPA Region IV and lies 45 kilometers south of Batangas and 237 kilometers south of Manila.

According to the province’s vision statement published in a coffee table book titled Gold on the Horizon, the provincial government of Oriental Mindoro aims to be a “preferred agri-eco-tourism destination in MIMAROPA” by 2025.

During a media tour from April 25 to 28, Mr. Calda told members of the press that half a million local and international tourists visited in 2018. They aim for an increase to 2 million by 2025.

In an effort to boost tourism in the province’s 14 municipalities, the Provincial Tourism, Investment, and Enterprise Development Office (PTIEDO) launched the Biyaheng OrMin Project — a package with a variety of activities ranging from cultural heritage to agri-tourism sites.

The destinations are:

The Gabutero organic farm — The 15-hectare Agricultural Training Institute (ATI)-certified organic farm in Bogabong, Oriental Mindoro, allots eight hectares to rice production and the remaining areas to organic fertilizer production, leisure areas and accommodations. “We have a diversified organic farming system where the land is used to plant fruits or crops depending on the season,” farm operator Nelson Gabutero told the press.

To educate the locals on organic farming, free training programs on topics such as vermiculture, vermi-composting, and organic rice production are offered to interested participants. Participants attend the training programs for 23 days and undergo assessment by Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) for certification.

Gabutero Organic Farm is located at Sitio Tubigan, Barangay Labonan, Bayan ng Bongabong, Silangang Mindoro. For more information, e-mail

The Silonay Mangrove and Conservation Park — Established in 2010, the Silonay Mangrove and Conservation Park in Calapan City is one of several marine protected areas of Oriental Mindoro. With an area of 41 hectares, it is the biggest mangrove conservation and eco-tourism area and currently has 15 species of mangrove. Guests may take a leisurely walk on a newly cemented bridge to explore the site and volunteer to plant mangroves. For more information, visit

Simbahang Bato of Naujan — Simbahang Bato or Bancuro Church of Ruins was established by Agustinian friars in 1679 — it is the oldest church in Naujan and the only stone church in Mindoro. In September 1842, the church caught fire in during an attack by Moro raiders. A chapel now stands within the ruins of the original church. The church is located at Brgy. Bancuro, Naujan.

Island-hopping — One can take island-hopping tours in the municipality of Bulalacao. One can take a motor boat from Bulalacao bay and visit three islands: Aslom island, which has a curved sandbar; the stingray-shaped Target island, which was a testing ground for bombs and weapons of American soldiers during the Second World War; and Suguicay island, where one can have lunch under the native huts. For information and inquiries, contact the Provincial Tourism and Cultural Affairs Office at (043) 288-1157 or (043) 441-9133, or e-mail

In an effort to improve accesibility to the province, there are plans to build a floating bridge.

In 2011, former provincial governor Alfonso V. Umali, Jr. discussed with former President Benigno Aquino III regarding the construction of the 14-kilometer Mindoro-Batangas Super Bridge.

According to Mr. Calda, the feasibility study on its construction and costing is ongoing at the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). The bridge is estimated to costs P18 billion, taking five years to build. Once finished, it will be the longest floating bridge in Asia.