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Surigao del Norte town aiming to become Southeast Asia’s game-fishing capital

SIARGAO Island, Surigao del Norte—A sleepy community of barely 10,000 people, Pilar town and its people have big dreams—to become the game-fishing capital of Southeast Asia, if not Asia itself.

With the support of the national government and the Department of Tourism (DOT), the people of Pilar are pooling their resources, bayanihan- style, to lure tourists. Some 27 homes in the town have signed up for the town’s home-stay program, which allows tourists to live with local families and experience rural life in Pilar while enjoying the town’s outdoor adventures.

The program started a year ago, when the town hosted the first Siargao game-fishing tournament. Without hotels and pension houses, town mayor Lucio Gonzales rallied the residents to open up their homes to their local and international guests. The DOT pitched in, identifying 16 houses which became recipients of a P75,000 grant to renovate their houses.

“We had nothing to offer, but our hospitality,” Gonzales said. The 2009 version of the game-fishing event drew anglers from Australia, Canada, Malaysia, Russia, Taiwan and the United States to compete with local anglers from all over the country.

The event was opened by President Arroyo. This year’s winner caught a 120-kilogram marlin just off the coast of Siargao.

One of the participants of the home-stay program was Carmencia Umbros. Although Umbros did not get the cash assistance, she opened up her three rooms to a delegation from General Santos City, who stayed in her house for two consecutive game-fishing tournaments.

“They liked it here the first time so they contracted me to host them again in May this year,” Umbros, a retired public-school teacher, said.

Her brother-in-law across the street just finished installing air-conditioning units in a room and is wrapping up a paint job, courtesy of the cash assistance from the DOT.

For P1,200 a day, Umbros’s house offers an air-conditioned room and full board meals plus a little extra.

“When the anglers come home from a day at the sea, I could not allow them to go to bed hungry so I cook for them,” Umbros said. “As with men, there should be unlimited rice.”

Mayor Gonzales said Pilar wants to show the other side of Siargao aside from the now world-famous surfs of Cloud 9.

“Our fishing grounds are perhaps the richest in the country,” he said. “Our dream is to be the fishing capital of Southeast Asia.”

With a community like Pilar and residents like Umbros, the dream may not be that far from becoming a reality. (Business Mirror)

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