Bernardo M. Villegas
Articles  >> more topics
The Heart of A Countryside

           Last July 6, I stayed overnight at "the heart of a countryside" in a bed-and-breakfast hotel in the charming town of Gerona, Tarlac.  The title of this article was lifted from a small brochure describing Nick Hotel which is exactly a model of what I have been recommending to entrepreneurs all over the countryside throughout the Philippine Archipelago.  The hotel, owned by a local business man, is on the main road to Baguio and has some 25 rooms of different sizes.   Room rates range from P1,200 to P3,500 per night.  Complimentary breakfast is included in the room rate.  There is a swimming pool.  All the rooms are air-conditioned and equipped with the usual amenities of flat screen colored TV with cable channels, multi-function telephone system with IDD and NDD and shower with hot and cold water.  There is a fully-equipped gym.  Wireless internet access is available. Nick Hotel is an example of the hundreds of bed-and-breakfast lodges that will mushroom all over the Philippines as tourism--both domestic and foreign--will reach more than 10 million in the next three to five years.  Entrepreneurs in the countryside who are looking for businesses to start should consider the bed-and breakfast model that Nick Hotel epitomizes. Philippine banks, with their current excess liquidity, should proactively encourage bed-and-breakfast facilities in the countryside.

          That was one of the messages I delivered to some 200 school superintendents who attended a seminar organized by the Tarlac division of the Department of Education in the nearby City of Tarlac, I encouraged some of them to promote this type of investment among the families of their students. The venue was the Tarlac National High School, the first national high school in the country.  The seminar was on promoting the culture of excellence in public schools and included talks on "Essentials and Nuances of Human Capital in the Philippines," "Fostering  a Cultural of Excellence in Public Schools," and "Education on Human Sexuality."  I was very impressed with how efficiently the seminar was organized by the education officials of the province of Tarlac.  All the participants were in place thirty minutes before the official start of the event, putting to shame even business conferences I have addressed in Makati.  The organizers showed consummate preparedness and flexibility when, unexpectedly, the premises suffered a "brown out" for almost four hours, coinciding with the morning sessions.  They procured power from an emergency source and had transistorized public address systems enabling the speakers to start exactly on time. Not a second was wasted.

          The discipline manifested by the school superintendents augurs well for the spread of the right work attitudes and corporate cultures needed in the countryside.  As towns like Gerona become more urban, or to put it more accurately "rurban"  (partly rural and partly urban), agriculture, industry and services will converge more and more in the regions outside the National Capital Region and will make inclusive growth more possible.  Those two hundred school superintendents can do much to improve the quality of basic education in public schools, where the children of the lower-income households study.  I told them to take advantage of the move towards K + 12 to increase the number of high school graduates who consider becoming highly skilled plumbers, carpenters, electricians and other technical workers that will be in great demand as the countryside gets more urbanized and industrialized.  Not everyone should go to college but should choose a career path carved out by technical education.  I am very glad that our education officials are talking about emulating the German time-tested system of dual-voctech education, as exemplified by the famous Dualtech School in Canlubang.

          As hotels like Nick Hotel multiply in towns like Gerona, there will also be a need to introduce more technical schools turning out chefs, waiters, and other hotel and restaurant workers.  Tourism-related courses need not be offered at the college level but can actually be incorporated into the last two years of senior high school in the K + 12 curriculum that  has been introduced last School Year.  I was very impressed with the quality of food and service in a very popular restaurant in Gerona called Isdaan.  It is already a focal point for what we can call culinary tourism, especially as it is on the road to Baguio.  There will be a need to train more restaurant workers that can be as good as those who served us in this restaurant.  The only fly in the ointment in this restaurant is the ill-conceived entertainment called in the Pampango language "Taksiyapo" which means irritation or anger.  Customers are asked to purchase breakable dishes and other objects which they then are told to smash against a wall that has graffiti depicting possible objects of hatred and repulsion like "mother-in-law", drug addicts, criminals, etc.  I told the educators in the conference I addressed that this form of entertainment is completely opposed to the Filipino culture of harmony and smooth interpersonal relations.  We should not encourage people, even in jest, to give vent to their feelings of anger and disgust.  I hope the owners of the restaurant will replace it with something less anti-culture like a dart game where customers are asked to purchase darts that they can try to aim at a bulls eye.  If their aim is accurate, then they get some reward much valuable than what they paid for the dart. It would like hitting a hole-in-one in golf.

            A final word about Gerona.  In the next ten years, I am sure it will also be a center for religious tourism approximating what Manaoag is for Pangasinan.  The town has the first Shrine of St. Josemaria Escriva, also located on the main road to Baguio.  Since there are tens of thousands of Filipinos and other Asians who have a strong devotion to the Founder of Opus Dei, I am sure that this Church of St. Josemaria in Gerona, Tarlac will attract many tourists going to the North of Luzon.  Increasingly through the years, these pilgrims will come from such other countries as South Korea, China, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, and other Asian countries where the apostolic activities of Opus Dei are taking root.  For comments, my email address is