Jeric Mahilum, fourth of seven children of a tricycle driver, thanked his parents for rearing and seeing him through basic and higher education despite economic challenges as he delivered the valedictory address at Riverside College in Bacolod City last week. He was among the 825 graduates of Riverside College, Inc., one of 15 colleges and four universities in this capital city of Negros Occidental province. It was Riverside’s first in-person graduation ceremonies in three years.
Talent availability and good infrastructure have made Bacolod one of the fastest-growing cities in terms of the information technology and business processing outsourcing industries. Riverside College, Inc., a member company of the Metro Pacific Hospital Holdings, Inc., has acquired state-of-the-art technology to fulfill its avowed mission to produce “21st century global leaders and professionals through tech-savvy programs and nurturing environment and processes.”
Nursing, physical therapy, medical technology, pharmacy, psychology and radiologic technology are the leading career choices of this year’s graduates. RCI President Samuel Lee and his staff gave us a tour of the school’s facilities that still bear telltale signs of wariness about Covid: Dividers in corridors, hard-plastic separators in classrooms, spaced-out desks and seats. Owing to its modern facilities – including an online learning management system – Riverside adopted a 10/4 cyclical model: Ten days of flexible online learning and four days of limited face-to-face classes on campus, and in different affiliating centers.
Last summer, I had the opportunity to engage Riverside students in virtual group discussions to sound them off on their outlook for their future. They regard education as the passport to a better life and a more auspicious future. They are wary of politicians who are prime exemplars of the mismatch between rhetoric and action. I am not sure if they are pleased with the outcome of the May national and local elections, but I am happy to note that, by and large, they made enlightened choices. I hope that even if their preferred candidates did not win, they would not be discouraged and would continue to believe in the pursuit of good governance.
After the graduation, Sammy Lee took us on a “running city tour” aboard a van, reminiscent of Carlos Celdran’s storied “walking tour” of Intramuros. Bacolod City’s landscape has changed over the past few years, as major property developers such as Ayala Land and SMDC have established malls, hotels, and residential subdivisions. High-rise structures have also mushroomed.
Food galore is another major draw of Bacolod; it is home to Ilonggo delicacies that are gourmet favorites. Chicken inasal readily comes to mind, along with kansi, a combination of bulalo and sinigang. As described in a food magazine: “It is a boiled bone-in beef shank and usually comes with the bone marrow. The unique mild sourness of its broth comes from one of its main ingredients, batwan, a fruit used as a souring agent. Many Bacolodnons crave for a hot sumptuous cansi during rainy days. It is definitely a Negrense classic.”
And then there is KBL, one of the go-to comfort food popular among the locals that stands for for kadyos (pigeon peas), baboy (pork meat), and langka (jackfruit), the three main ingredients of the dish. Piaya and pastries are the other favorites among locals and visitors. We were treated to a sumptuous lunch in Melken’s a restaurant built on bamboo stilts in Barangay Balaring, Silay City, an easy 20-minute drive from downtown Bacolod. Its specialties are grilled stuffed squid and inihaw na tanguigue.
Bacolod City is also known as the City of Smiles and the Masskara, or festival of masks, has become its signature annual event, drawing thousands of tourists, every fourth Sunday of October. According to local tourist officials, the festival was initiated to lift up the morale of the locals to rejuvenate their spirit in the face of life’s challenges.
Highlight of our running city tour were the interesting vignettes shared by our well-informed tour guide on the ancestral homes in Bacolod, Talisay and Silay cities and the illustrious families that own those houses. Their family names are quite familiar, as they represent the country’s economic and political elite. We also traveled to Ilaya highland resort in Silay, a half-hour drive from the Bacolod-Silay airport. It provides a panoramic view of the three cities extending up to Guimaras Strait and Panay Gulf.
Indeed, being in Bacolod for nearly a week enabled us to gain a better appreciation of the diversity of Filipino life and culture – as well as the vibrancy of our youth and people.