San Miguel, Bulacan. Home of the Biak na Bato.

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San Miguel is the last town in Bulacan on the way to Nueva Ecija. I remember 35 years ago, when I was a young lad, being in a friend’s house in a San Miguel barangay that was at a point where a step away was Candaba, Pampanga, and another step sideways is Nueva Ecija. While we were actually in Bulacan.

The town is famous for Sevilla’s Sweets and it is almost criminal to pass by this town and not buy some to bring home. I bought a box of pastillas and other delicacies from the last of the three Sevilla’s outlets, and the bill came to only P190 I even wondered if there was a mistake, but I was assured there was none.

The day I went there was probably leading to the town fiesta, and there were tiendas at the poblacion, near the church. I walked around this section of town and saw a couple of beautiful old homes.

Other than Sevilla’s, the town is also home to the Biak na Bato National Park. (photos to be posted when I edit tomorrow)

It is a forest park under the supervision of the Department of Environment & Natural Resources. I paid the P30 entrance fee and engaged the services of a local guide to explore the forest. At the gate, all visitors are briefed about the park attractions – – – the many caves and the picnic areas around the river where most visitors bathe. It is made clear that guests would do well to engage the services of the local guides or they may not find their way thru the forest park. The fee for the guide is P100 per cave, or P600 on a normal tour covering a little over 4 hours. I figured that the park makes good money from these tour guide services. As it turns out, the park does not earn a cent from this, and all the fees go to the guides themselves. Hmmm.

After sweating it out on the up-and-down trails and changing my dripping shirt, we made way for the exit. I got myself a glass of P20 halo-halo on he stalls on the roadside.

Tired but refreshed, we headed to the parking area to head home to Metro Manila. The parking attendant was insistent that our Volvo SUV was a van, not a car, and was charged P50 instead of P40 for cars. Apparently, they classify all SUVs as vans. Oh well. I asked for a receipt and was issued one that was not registered with the Bureau of Internal revenue. Rather, they are the type available in public markets. No record of fees collected as the “receipt” doesn’t even have duplicate copies. Concerned that the government/DENR/Biak na Bato National Park was being cheated of revenues, I went down and reported the matter to the person manning the entrance gate. And he nonchalantly said that the parking area was not controlled by them, and was private property. Hmmmmmmmm. Clear signs indicating “Parking Area” when anyone goes to the park, and fees collected by a barangay tanod who is a government employee, receiving stipends from his barangay, and the parking area is private? How lucky can this landowner get. Or is it really private? Or public land with revenues going to private coffers? Just asking.

In the end, I figured that  visitors from Manila who would go to Biak na Bato, unaware of its state of neglect, will be thoroughly disappointed. As I was. And even more disappointed thinking that either the park is so mismanaged that they have not thought about deriving revenue from the tour guide services and the parking fees, or that corruption has seeped in and that some officials might be the ones deriving good money from a government asset. Either way, there will be no funds to improve the condition of the park. And only the most serious trekkers will enjoy going deep into the woods. It is said that one will need to stay for 2 weeks, camping where night finds them, to fully explore this forest. And spend a king’s ransom for local guide fees.

HOW TO GET THERE:

On a private car, take NLEX and exit at Sta Rita. Follow the road to Baliwag, and on to San Miguel, passing maybe 6 or so towns.  Many provincial buses service this route, too.

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