The recent opening of SM’s premier mall in downtown Puerto Princesa City is a milestone in Puerto’s remarkable physical transformation from a backwater town of the late 90’s to a bustling city, complete with the attendant traffic jams and all other accoutrement of blight and, well yes, political dogfights. Today, we are a town flanked on both ends by two large shopping malls.
It is largely coincidental but significant as well that starting this week, the print edition of Palawan News is going broadsheet. We are doing so not simply out of choice but as a consequence of demand, where news and op-ed have begun wanting for more space as we plod on to chronicle these exciting and exacting times.
Coping has lately become the fad for many. The old town’s “origs”, if there is even such a status considering that strictly speaking nearly all of the city’s inhabitants are migrants of various eras, recently found a refuge — a membership page on Facebook called Batang Puerto Princesa which has become an overnight craze.
Started by Majal Bautista, a town child of the 80’s and now a professional based in Manila, the page’s membership has grown to somewhere over 27,000 almost in a blink, populated by locals of varying perspectives and drawn by the common lure of posts prefixed with “do you remember when…” or “taga Puerto ka kung…” No politics, no selling of anything, lest Bautista and the many volunteer page moderators kick you out. It’s just a walk down retro Puerto when life was slow and so mellow. Lately, some people have been reporting of sleepless night caused by addiction to Batang Puerto page browsing.
The rapid transformation of Puerto Princesa City took place not so long ago, as evidenced by BPP random recollections. This place was pretty much a backwater town in the 80’s and through much of the 90’s when old novelties like the rundown Ignacio’s Restaurant was the most popular eatery and the word rivalry was not yet associated with the warring politicians of today but between the neighbors East Central and Pilot Elementary.
The city’s population growth rate throughout the 90’s exceeded that of the national average, at somewhere around 3.5 percent per annum, driven mainly by the trend of in-migration. Urban planning evidently failed to anticipate growth so that today, the city’s population is facing issues of traffic congestion, inefficient power supply and services and overall rising cost of living.
Of all the economic sectors, tourism may have triggered of these changes as the city and the province of Palawan for that matter rapidly emerged as among the world’s most popular tourist destinations. The successful promotional campaign for the Underground River, the increased popularity of the province in the word tourism market following its “best island in the world” tag bestowed by several reputable international magazines were perhaps the main factors that have caused this phenomenon.
Puerto Princesa and Palawan’s political leaders and urban planners will find a gem in simply appreciating the nuance of the Batang Puerto Princesa. For it shows, among other, that pride of place is a virtue that can never be lost amidst the physical transformation of a place. As much as it frowns upon negativity, Batang Puerto Princesa is itself a product of the conflict that every community goes through as they face inevitable change.
Reading though the pages, one could sense the rant that life was much better than before. And perhaps it was so. Today’s generation of Puerto Princesa and Palawan children will carry on what BPP started. In a couple of decades or so, they too will reminisce what this town is now and how it compares to theirs in that future.
Palawan News, now a broadsheet, is part of that generation and it intends to chronicle that narrative, with a fervent prayer that ours will prove to be a colorful story of greatness and success.