ODIONGAN, Romblon -- Aside from promoting the Philippines' archipelagic heaven located right in its heart, 2017's Mimaropa festival has more familial reason behind it.

In a press conference before the actual parade to highlight talents from Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan (Mimaropa), Romblon Governor Eduardo Firmalo told visiting reporters from Manila that the purpose of the festival is to "rekindle long lost connections".

He explained that a lot of Romblomanons are now residing in parts of Mimaropa, similar to how other locals from the region's provinces are also distributed to its counterparts.

"The festival's purpose is to promote closer ties with the rest of the region, especially in Romblon we have kababayans living now in Palawan, living now in Occidental Mindoro, living now in Marinduque, for sure this will rekindle affection we have lost from our kababayans," Firmalo said.

True enough, people flocked to the stretch of Odiongan roads during the street parade and supporters from the five provinces flooded Romblon's sport complex on the night of Nov. 22 to support delegates who showcased each of their unique, colorful and spirited performances.

Seven groups from all over Region IV-B participated in the dance parade and competition, wherein Occidental Mindoro topped as the champion followed by Puerto Princesa and Calapan City.

Watching the show live gave the foreign and local tourists the feels that there are more to Mimaropa than meets the eye, something that inexplicably make them curious to know more about it -- the rich culture and history behind the locus of lush natural resources it is prominent for.

For instance, one would not know that the largest wild animal in the Philippines can only be found in Mindoro, or that the Banton cloth, the earliest known warp ikat (tie-resist dyeing) textile in Southeast Asia was found in a wooden coffin in Banton Island, Romblon, or that the last Japanese soldier from World War II to surrender scrooched down in the jungles of Lubang, Occidental Mindoro.

During the showdown, performers perfectly captured the narrative of the region's unique stories weaved into one dance.

For one, they put a spotlight on the distinguishing characteristic of Romblon as the marble capital of the country, on Mindoro as home of the Philippines' Tamaraws, on Marinduque's Moriones festival, and on Palawan's one a kind underground river.

The Mimaropa festival, which offcially ended Nov. 25, will be next held in Mamburao, Occidental Mindoro for its fourth edition.

'Spotlight on Romblon'

As this year's host of the Mimaropa festival, local tourism office in Odiongan opened its doors to the media with highlight on the province's rich marine resources.

In all honesty, Romblon offers mighty fine beaches comparable to the pristine white sands of Boracay. One of which is the Binucot Beach in Ferrol, Romblon, which welcomes its guests with unspoiled and uncrowded coastline.

A short swim away from its beach will also take one's breath away with abundant sights underwater such as colorful reef fishes you'd thought can only be seen through Pixar films.

Also experienced by the media was the awe-inspiring 48-hectare Looc bay marine refuge and sanctuary, to which, according to "bantay dagat" volunteers, is home to over 100 different marine species including octopus, eels, reef fishes, marine turtles, lobster and lionfish.

As per the Looc Tourism Information Center, four species of giant clams are also found in Looc Bay that can be seen within easy swimming distance of the kiosk.

The lofty floating kiosk, which can cater around 60 persons, is where foreign and local tourists usually visit to see the wonders beneath the sea.

The kiosk, located in the middle of the sanctuary tied in an old lighthouse, is open to all visitors. For an entrance fee of PHP100, visitors can use the facility and fare to and from the raft.

According to Daniel Gabuna, a volunteer "bantay dagat", marine biodiversity did not only flourish since the establishment of the sanctuary in 1999 but also made the livelihood of fishermen in Looc "sustainable" due to crackdown on illegal fishing.

Aside from this, he added that the 35 "bantay dagat" volunteers of the sanctuary are now getting incentives.

For the month of January to October 2017 alone, tourist arrivals at the Looc fish sanctuary already reached 13,102 compared to the total visitors for the entire 2016 only reaching 7,508.

Apart from Tablas Island where Odiongan is located, Firmalo said Mimaropa festival will play a huge part in the "expected" increase in tourist arrivals in the entire Romblon, which includes two other main islands, namely, Sibuyan Island and Romblon, Romblon (PNA)