By Dolly Yasa
BACOLOD City – Mayor Alme Rhumyla Nicor-Mangilimutan of La Castellana, Negros Occidental said the local government’s efforts are now focused on the development of the tourism industry to spur employment especially among the locals.
Mangilimutan stressed this point during the blessing and inauguration of one of the eye-catching developments in the town – the giant Holy Cross that stands 13 meters in the middle of the slopes in Barangay Mansalanao.
One has to trek an 83-step stairway to reach the flattened and cemented area where the cross was erected.
The area treats visitors to the scenic view of the cross and the landscape with Canlaon volcano as backdrop.
The air is cool as well.
Their synergy is a picturesque view that lures in every local and foreign tourist visiting the town.
Mangilimutan said the structure has already created an impact on the tourism industry as people from other areas, including passersby and bikers stop by to go up and see the structure.
The mayor said she welcome tourists to visit the place, especially during the Holy Week.
She also said that the local government is not yet imposing fees on visitors.
But the project is being groomed as an income generating project of the town so it can fund additional developments in the area and even other projects in the town.
“Our plan is to transform the area into a tourism enterprise zone,” Mangilimutan said.
She added that the municipal government is banking on tourism development to further boost the town’s economy and create employment opportunities for the locals.
The giant cross is situated within a 3.6-hectare property initially developed by the local government after entering into a usufruct agreement for 25 years with the landowner, the Infante family.
About half of the P7-million budget sourced from the town’s aid to the barangay’s fund was already utilized for the first phase of the project.
The second phase includes the lighting of the structure, development of a garden, and the construction of an “ecumenical chapel” which will host events like weddings, prenuptials and pilgrimage, among others.
“La Castelleños have big faith and the structure is also a reminder for us that we should keep this faith alive,” the mayor said.
Interested investors are also welcome to pour in their investments to further enhance the area.
Mangilimutan said they are pushing for public-private partnership (PPP).
Aside from the Holy Cross, a few meters away are the statues of Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ Shrine, complementing the Holy Cross which were inaugurated simultaneously.
They serve as the centerpiece of the Century Leaf Garden, which is the takeoff of the town’s tourism highway.
“Through the tourism highway that we will be creating, we will connect all the tourism spots in the upper barangays of La Castellana,” the mayor said.
Also being envisioned aside from increasing the number of cafés to cater to more small businesses and entrepreneurs in the town, other future developments in the area include a hotel, resort, cable car, and tourism hub that will showcase various products of the locality, among others.
“This huge project will really complement our tourism industry recovery efforts amid the prevailing coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic,” the mayor said.
Mangilimutan, however, pointed out that a portion of which may be covered under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) of the Department of the Agrarian Reform though there’s already a pending application for it to be reversed from agricultural land to a tourism site.
“We will only develop the area whatever is allowed,” she said.
The mayor further said “we have planned these developments even before the pandemic and tourism is really a priority of my administration because, again, it is an economic booster that will alleviate the lives of my constituents.