FINALLY, I had the opportunity to visit “Asia’s Latin City,” Zamboanga, for the first time last July 2-4, 2015. I was fortunate to have been invited by the business couple Emilio R. Yap, Sr. and his lovely Ilongga wife, Marilou Chua-Yap, on the occasion of the inauguration and blessing of the Yap family’s Southwest Asian Canning Corporation (SACC) located in Dumagsa, Talisayan Old Highway, Zamboanga City. On the same day was the birthday celebration of Zamboanga’s beloved businessman Jimmy R. Yap which saw the attendance of his Davao Central School Batch 72 classmates; prominent Davao Chinoy businessmen led by Vicente Tan and Arthur Te; doctors Rizal Aportadera and Benedict Valdez, among so many others. The Cebu Pacific flights to Zamboanga that Sunday was filled to capacity with siblings Jimmy and Emilio R. Yap’s guests, which included Greg Tung of Ligo Sardines, Lin Suy of KCC Mall, Anita Kaw of Family Sardines, who were all billeted at the Garden Orchid Hotel.


EMILIO and Marilou Yap, Jimmy and Rosalita Yap, Eugene and Kay Yap, with guests at the Astoria Hotel’s Sky View Resto

It has always been my wish to visit Zamboanga, the sixth most populous and the third largest city in land area in the country. Vicente Tan and his loving wife, Elby Luy-Tan, of Davao Seahorse Parts and Hardware have been inviting me to go with them to Zamboanga ever since. Their pretty and so fair daughter, Kathryn Kaye is happily married to Emilio and Marilou Yap’s unico hijo, the serious and hardworking Eugene Chua Yap. Eugene and Kaye have two healthy and handsome boys namely Emile Frederick and Ethan Frederick.


(L-R): MICHAEL E. Dakudao, Anding Wee, Fr. Michael Ufana, Sergio D. Yap and Marilou Chua Yap at the Most Holy Trinity Parish Church

   Still, I find it difficult to see why Zamboanga is considered as the commercial and industrial center of the Western Mindanao region/Zamboanga Peninsula. You won’t find an SM Mall nor an Ayala Mall here. But the good news is, businessman Lin Suy of GenSan’s KCC Mall is presently building a humongous mall which is slated to open this December 2015. Yes, it doesn’t help at all that Nurulaji Misuari’s Moro National Liberation Front’s urban warfare in Zamboanga in 2001 and again in 2013 created so much destruction on lives and properties thus preventing big time investors from developing the city. Mayor Maria Isabel Climaco-Salazar, niece of the assassinated Zamboanga politician Cesar Climaco, is doing her mighty best in the rehabilitation of her beloved City on the road to progress. Indeed, there is so much potential in this former Spanish stronghold in Mindanao. I so admire the Yap family, their business partners and associates in their resilience and confidence in investing billions of pesos in sardines and tuna canning facilities like the Southwest Asian Canning Corporation, PERMEX, Y&L Fishing Corp., among others, in Zamboanga. These companies are providing jobs for thousands of Zamboangenos and are keeping the City alive despite the odds they face.

     If only the tourism sector is just as active as the businessmen to generate the much needed income for the city. DOT’s must visit places in Zamboanga like the Canelar Barter Trading Center and the Yakan Weaving Village in Calaran left much to be desired. And I never saw those colourful sails of the vintas featured in many travel mags while I was there. Worth seeing though are the 58-hectare Pasonanca Park, Climaco Freedom Park, among others.

     Thanks to the devout Marilou Chua-Yap, we were able to pray at the well-maintained Fort Pilar Shrine. This shrine was formerly known as the Real Fuerza de San Jose built by the Spaniards in 1635 as protection against Muslim, Dutch, Portuguese and English attacks. Through Marilou, I was able to have an interesting conversation with Fr. Michael Ufana of the Most Holy Trinity Parish Church. Fr. Michael was the priest who was kept hostage by MNLF along with his family members and a number of young and old Zamboanguenos. The priest was made to negotiate with the Philippine Government on the demands of Nur Misuari’s MNLF in the Siege of Zamboanga in 2013.

     Zamboanga still retains its old world charm through its Spanish-influenced architecture especially seen in most of its government structures. How I wish the sterile-looking, modern parish churches were designed retaining the Hispanic architectural style. How beautiful it would have been if these houses of worship were designed in the Mission Style akin to that of California’s churches.

     At the heart of Zamboanga’s culture is its regional cuisine which reminds me of good, old, home cooking using the best and freshest of ingredients without the intervention of professional chefs and their culinary fusion techniques. Thanks to the Yap family, all the guests dined with much gusto at the Sky View Restaurant of the New Astoria Hotel and the Hacienda de Palmeras Restaurant of Rose Kuan. The birthday celebration of Jimmy R. Yap had the Garden Orchid Hotel offering its best dishes and drinks to the guests which truly made the affair a night in Zamboanga to remember.

   Muchas gracias, Emilio, Marilou, Jimmy, Rosalita, Eugene and Kaye Yap, for the best in Chinoy hospitality.

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