Mutya beauties and the beach

By Riyel Mangali
Updated July 29, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Avid followers of pageant events, entertainment, fashion, travel and leisure are already aware that the Mutya ng Pilipinas 2009 pageant will be held in Baler, Aurora, this coming August. The marriage of the national pageant and the enchanting province was formally sealed as past and present Mutya winners, together with the pageant organizers and the production staff, visited Aurora and explored its scenic landscapes and historic landmarks, discovered its rich cultural heritage, and delved into its simple, fun, and peaceful way of living.

During the two-day tour, Jedah Hernandez (Mutya ng Pilipinas-International 2004), Anna Morelos (Mutya ng Pilipinas-Tourism 2007) and Katrina Rigets (Mutya ng Pilipinas-First Runner-up 2008) became bona-fide Aurorans as they discovered the grandeur of the province's scenery and related with locals from all walks of life.

Fulfilling pageantry's mission: Mutya president Roberto De Venecia, a fisherman, Aurora Governor Bellaflor Angara-Castillo and the three beauties let loose thousands of fingerlings at Cemento Reef.

On their first day, they witnessed the breathtaking sunrise on Baler's Sabang beach. They ate a hearty breakfast while indulging in the sound of the lulling waves and the cool sea breeze. They also walked along the shore and chanced upon a group of fishermen hauling a huge net filled with pipikat, a kind of fish that, as the crowned lasses were told, makes the best Baler sinigang. Sabang beach is a long stretch of fine gray sand known as Aurora's haven of neophyte surfers. When beginning surfers learn to endure the waves of Sabang, they can then be allowed to surf more challenging spots like the fierce Cobra Reef, one of the best surfing locations in the country.

After chitchat with fellow beach wanderers they met during their morning walk, the ladies went to Aurora's government offices, paid some courtesy calls, and met with tourism officials. The presence of the beauty queens was quickly felt throughout the whole building as employees walked out of their rooms to see, meet, talk with, and grab some photo ops with the Mutyas. "We are so glad that the MPI chose to visit Aurora," said Alex Ocampo, Aurora's provincial administrator. "The province is undergoing a time of major developments, so the pageant is very timely."

The first destination of the Mutyas was the town of Casiguran on the historic Ermita Hill. In 1735, it was said that a major tsunami hit the lands of Aurora, and everyone, except for the five families who went to the hill, died in the catastrophe. Today, Ermita Hill continues to serve as a place of solace in the province. It is where families gather during weekends and leisure days, and has become a venue for different celebrations, from birthdays to weddings to clan reunions.

The beautiful Mutyas enjoyed the magnificent surroundings and views of the hill. Armed with their digital cameras, the ladies took countless photos posing in front of different picturesque backgrounds and decks. On the one side of the hill, there is an overwhelming vista of the serene coastal community - its cozy houses, lengthy strip of sand, line of boats, running children, swimmers - and the vast blue sea. On the other side, the grand mountain range of the Sierra Madre makes a striking contrast - green, quiet, standing powerfully and sleeping under its spotless skin of dense green.

Auroran Art: Weaving chic beach hats from sabutan threads.

After relishing several rustic sights, the crowned beauties were toured through the different centers of livelihood in the province. There is the Korea-Philippines Rice Processing Complex, a processing plant financed by the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) through the initiative of Senator Ed Angara, a son of Aurora who always thinks of the best for his kababayans, and the amiable and energetic incumbent Governor Bellaflor Angara-Castillo. The complex consists of state-of-the-art machinery that replaces and enhances traditional methods of rice processing. The ladies were taught how rice integrated processing takes place and they even volunteered to pack and seal a few sacks utilizing modern tools. After this, the ladies visited a coconut husk fiber making and processing facility where coconut residues are collected and utilized to generate incremental revenues. The export-oriented production and processing facility is located in barangay Reserva, where the ladies learned how to produce strong ropes from husk filaments.

"We are more than self-sufficient in rice," said provincial agriculturist Adriano Necesito. "We are actually contributing to the supply situation of major distributing centers in Central Luzon and Metro Manila. More, our coconut is probably one of the best in the world, or at least in the Philippines."

When asked about the pageant, he said, "It's an honor that Mutya ng Pilipinas will be held in Aurora. Hopefully it may boost agri-tourism in the city . so urban people can experience how it feels to live in the countryside, picking fresh fruits, drinking fresh milk, breathing cool, unpolluted air."

The ladies also paid a visit to Rowie's Creations, a shop specializing in products made of sabutan. Sabutan (pandanus sabotan) looks like a long, thin, thread of leaf similar to buri, and is one of the unique products of Aurora. It is dyed and woven into mats of very elegant patterns, and can be turned into various products like bags, caps, pillowcases, document boxes, and other decorative items. Rowena Torres, the shop's owner, could not contain her excitement when the Mutya beauties walked into her house. The ladies learned how to interlace the threads. Needless to say, their jaws dropped at seeing how fast the businesswoman could weave the thread.

Aurora is a province of hope. The Mutyas concluded this when they went to the classes of the People Empowerment and Advancement Center for Employment (PEACE) in barangay Suklayin. PEACE, spearheaded by lady Governor Angara-Castillo, provides free training and scholarships to socially disadvantaged Aurorans like those with disabilities, members of indigenous tribes, out-of-school youth, senior citizens, and unemployed women. Some of the courses offered by PEACE are massage therapy, cooking, dressmaking, and beauty care. Unsurprisingly, the loudest shrieks were heard when the Mutyas greeted the students in the beauty care training room.

The next morning, the three beauty queens, together with Governor Angara-Castillo, Mutya ng Pilipinas organizers and other environmental officials, gathered at the banks of Cemento River where they released thousands of fingerlings. As a province with several coastal municipalities, Aurora depends largely on its fishing industry. The seeding activity aims to foster open fishing in the area several months after the release. It intends to replenish the dwindling fish supply in Cemento and to a certain extent, contribute to the overall stability of the food supply chain.

After this, the group proceeded to the Kalmadaba-Ascot Mangroves Research Center where they planted several mangrove seedlings. Mutya ng Pilipinas president Roberto De Venecia wholeheartedly agrees with and supports the governor's idea that such environmental commitment is very relevant since mangroves serve as major natural habitats for fishes and other marine creatures. Mangrove protection and rehabilitation are necessary in order to keep Aurora's fish and crustacean industry strong, healthy, and growing.

These two environmental campaigns aim to educate the young on the relevance of such activities in the daily life of people in the countryside.

Before leaving Aurora, the three beauty queens had a chance to bond with Angara-Castillo in a pasalubong shopping spree and over the lunch table. Aurora's lady chief talked with the beauties about everything under the sun. The energetic and warm-hearted governor kissed the ladies goodbye and even waited until their shuttle drove away.

The Mutyas regretted that they missed scuba diving, mountain climbing, trekking, island hopping, and many other sights, but this initial tour was a promise that after three weeks, when they come back with this year's batch of official candidates, they will encounter more of the beauty and bounty of Eastern Luzon's blossoming queen.