REMEMBRANCE. The 20-foot structure, dedicated to those who died when the Cebu Pacific Flight 5J387 crashed in Mt. Sumagaya, has become one of the attractions of the newly-inaugurated Misamis Oriental tourism complex and botanical garden. The tourist destination was inaugurated in time for the 23rd anniversary of the plane crash on Feb. 2, 1998. (PNA photo by Jigger J. Jerusalem)

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY – What was remembered as a place of death and tragedy on a mountainous area in Misamis Oriental is now becoming a thriving tourist destination after the provincial government converted a parcel of land near the Cebu Pacific Flight 5J387 crash site into a tourism complex and botanical garden.

The tourist destination inaugurated Tuesday is situated a few kilometers from the crash site on the slopes of the Mt. Sumagaya mountain range that borders Gingoog City and Claveria town.

The accident is considered one of the worst air disasters in the Philippines.

The Cebu Pacific airplane, a McDonell Douglas DC-9-32, bound for Cagayan de Oro from Manila, crashed into the mountain, killing all the 99 passengers and five flight crew on Feb. 2, 1998.

A 20-foot memorial shrine, dedicated to those who perished in the tragic event and erected about 20 years ago, is located within the complex.

Based on the blueprint, the site will have coffee shops, fruit stands, camping areas, flower gardens, and other amenities to promote food tourism, and historical and cultural tourism in the province.

Lawyer Jeffrey Saclot, provincial tourism officer, said with the completion of the complex’s first phase, more tourists are expected to come to Misamis Oriental.

He assured that the national government's health protocols would be strictly implemented in light of the coronavirus disease pandemic.

He said the tourist destination “aims to encourage people to have a wider array of options when visiting the area by boasting of amenities and attractions previously known to be available only from neighboring provinces.”

Saclot added expansion of the complex is still in the pipeline.

In his message during the tourism site’s inauguration in time for the Flight 387’s 23rd anniversary on Tuesday, Gov. Yevgeny Vincente Emano described the project as a “milestone that will cement Misamis Oriental into the tourism map of the Philippines.”

Emano said the complex “will also present new opportunities for livelihood for many Misamisnons due to the expected influx of tourists.”

Due to the area’s cold weather, the governor said the stretch of land located along Highway 955 between Gingoog and Claveria might as well become the summer capital of Misamis Oriental, if not the whole of Mindanao.

Since the highway was opened a few years ago, it served as a diversion road that cuts short travel time from western Misamis Oriental to the province’s eastern towns and vice versa.

Establishments such as restaurants, coffee shops, and other places of interest have also opened near Highway 955.

However, the tourism complex's jurisdiction is still being contested by the local governments of Gingoog and Claveria, with both parties awaiting court decision.

As a compromise, Erick Cañosa and Meraluna Abrogar, mayors of Gingoog and Claveria, respectively, signed a memorandum of understanding essentially consenting to Emano’s proposal that 40 percent of the complex’s earnings will go to the provincial government, and the 60 percent will be split in half by Claveria and Gingoog.

Once the court has decided on who is the rightful claimant of the contested land, the winning party will get the 60 percent share, while the province will still receive its 40 percent, Emano said.

Energy fund

Emano said the complex was constructed using funds from the Energy Regulation (ER) 1-94, or the local government's share in the electricity sales of power-generating companies operating in the province, with a budget of PHP16 million in 2019.

Part of that fund came from German power producer Steag State Power Inc., which turned over P3.54 million to the provincial government as part of Misamis Oriental’s ER 1-94 share.

At the turn-over of the PHP3.54 million check on December 23, 2019, Emano said he would show the Steag management “that the money that you entrusted to the provincial government will never go to waste. We will implement it properly.”

Emano also unveiled the project plan to the public during the turnover ceremony.

Moving on

For Fe Vallejos, 71, visiting the shrine was one way to cope with the loss of her son Omar Kim, one of the plane passengers who perished in the crash.

Vallejos said Omar Kim was then a village council member of Barangay 2, Balingasag town, Misamis Oriental, at the time of his death.

She said Omar Kim is the second eldest among six siblings and would have been 47 years old by now.

“He just went to Manila to attend to some personal matters. We didn’t expect that he would die so suddenly and so young,” Vallejos said.

Although it was painful at first, she said she has learned to accept her son’s death with time. (PNA)