More than a ‘City of Smiles’

BACOLOD CITY – The Philippine Chamber of Commerce Industry (PCCI) has named this city as the most business-friendly local government unit for 2021 in the highly urbanized category. Mayor Evelio Ramos Leonardia accepted the award that was bestowed last month during the 47th Philippine Business Conference and Expo at the PCCI Innovation Center in Taguig City.

This accolade came 14 years after Bacolod won the same recognition in 2007, which was a major factor in attracting local and foreign investments to the capital city of Negros Occidental province. At that time, Leonardia was also the city’s mayor.

A clear manifestation of investor confidence is the opening of new hotels here even in the middle of the pandemic, such as Park Inn by Radisson adjacent to SM City Bacolod at the reclamation area. The 150-room business hotel was formally inaugurated last week and it complements the seven-year-old SMX Bacolod, the biggest exhibition and convention center in the Visayas.

Last Nov. 30, a pioneering book was unveiled before an overflow crowd at Ayala Malls Capitol Central. “Sugar & Smiles: The Negrense Legacy Beyond 2020” is a 320-page coffee table book published by an all-Negrense project team consisting of co-publishers Gen Tomas and Joey Montalvo, project director Benjie Torre, marketing director Tere Quebrar-Manalili, and myself as executive editor.

Despite the quarantine lockdowns over the past 20 months, we were able to produce the first-ever coffee table book about Negros Occidental and Bacolod City together with 30 writers and creative staffers. A portion of this heirloom collectible’s sales proceeds was given to the Kalipay Negrense Foundation, founded in 2007 by Anna Claparols Balcells primarily to rescue abused and abandoned children of Negros.

Responding on behalf of the beneficiary, Balcells hopes “that through this book, we will be reminded that the key to our future is in the children who, as future Negrense citizens, will carve out their own paths ensuring that our legacy lives on.”

Main chapters of the book were written by historians Modesto Sa-onoy and Roque Hofileña; award-winning authors Dr. Cecilia Locsin-Nava and Atty. Rayboy Pandan; social media influencers Atty. Eli Gatanela and Lloyd Tronco; chefs Richard Ynayan and Mia Lizares-Gonzaga; Western Visayas regional tourism director Christine Mansinares; and advertising executive Nikki Golez.

Negros Occidental Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson lauded the project team for compiling these stories – that are not just about the sugar industry – into a book “that has become part of the treasures of our province.” He expressed surprise that “the contents were all made in Negros” and the actual book production was done in Talisay City by a homegrown firm that runs on solar power, Impress Quality Printing Philippines Inc.

Life in Bacolod has returned to normal, almost like pre-pandemic times. During the recent “Bayanihan Bakunahan” or national vaccination days, the city administered 106% of its original target for inoculation, according to official data from the Regional Vaccination Operations Center of the Department of Health (DOH). In fact, it surpassed the DOH’s target for the entire Western Visayas on the first day alone.

J. Albert Gamboa is a Life Member of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX). He is the Editor-in-Chief of the quarterly FINEX Digest magazine and the monthly FINEX Focus newsletter. The opinion expressed herein does not necessarily reflect the views of these institutions and the Manila Bulletin.