EXCEPT for the traffic mess that it created, school reunions, such as the one just concluded by the homecoming alumnae of the Universidad de Sta. Isabel, bring economic bonanza to the city’s local trade and commerce. Many of the preferred hotels were booked for returning sons and daughters who came from Manila and abroad, and elsewhere, whether successful or not, to reunite with their former classmates and at the same time pay visit to old families and relatives. And restaurants and beer joints were full, too, especially those serving all-time favorite native food and delicacies, including exotic pulutan, the latter for the comebacking potbellied beer- and alcohol-guzzling alumni.
Long before the actual date of the reunion, colegialas, for instance, had spent significant amount of money to pay choreographers and DIs (Dance Instructors) to teach them every weekend how to dance or prepare for them a number for presentations by each batch during the parade and stage performances. Tailors and dressmakers also made a killing by designing and sewing costumes to be worn during the street parade and the dance and hoopla number inside the campus to outshine the other batches in color, design, and dance choreography that many had waited to witness when the Big Day came.
Here in Naga, there are at least three big annual school reunions, excluding those held by certain jubilarians on occasional basis. These are the Ateneo grand alumni homecoming every December, USI every February, and the University of Nueva Caceres, though on irregular year and date. They come in hundreds and in thousands which means a big source of food supply, hotel booking, beach resorts and leisure houses. Fun and more fun do not end with the final day of the reunion. Many prepare for sidetrips along favorite tour destinations within the province and the nearby cities and towns, if not outside of the region to as far as, say, Palawan, Boracay and Vigan, or as near as Misibis, Bulusan Lake, and Caramoan.
Indeed, reunions are a potential tourist arrival event with those coming from abroad, or those that tagged along their foreign partners, spending their dollars after exchanging them for more peso bills for hotel accommodation, van rental, sumptuous food and fruits, pasalubong, and even generous tips to waiters.
During the time of then Naga Mayor Jess Robredo, I, as tourism officer, was instructed by the good mayor to write other schools encouraging their alumni to come home for class reunions as we help them facilitate their accommodation at discounted rates. We took note of which school was to hold a jubilee year, a silver, sapphire or golden grand homecoming and offer them whatever assistance they would need from us, from city hall. This was of course, apart from our task of inviting and encouraging private companies, government offices, and large universities to hold their summit, conferences, sports competitions (Naga had hosted the Palarong Pambansa twice under Robredo’s term and the national PRISAA meet at least once), skills olympics, and annual business meetings --- whether regional, national and even international --- here in Naga that we promoted and marketed as a “maogmang lugar.” With these events, one can’t simply imagine how much food were consumed (especially the Palarong Pambansa where some ten to tw
elve thousand athletes, coaches, the players’ accompanying parents and friends, and other guests have to be supplied with food, bottled mineral water, eggs and fruits for the straight five days of sports competitions), hotel rooms rented, fare and gasoline for transport spent, pasalubong bought, and the friendship and camaraderie developed between the guests and the hosts.
Naga then, as now, was bursting with additional revenues and income that we should realize now have contributed to Naga’s economy and burgeoning commerce and trade, creating more disposable income for entrepreneurs and small and big businessmen. It is no wonder then that Naga has been hailed as one of the country’s business-friendly cities, and two-time awardee as the most competitive component city in the country.
We may not be Bicol’s regional administrative center for that title was bestowed at the height of Martial Law by capricious Imelda Marcos -- who, probably awed by the majestic Mayon Volcano and at the same time turned off by Naguenos’ strong opposition to the Marcos regime, took away the regional offices originally situated in our city and hastily transferred them to Legazpi City while at the same time she built a posh seaside resort and golf course to go with the erection of a 5-star hotel and casino on top of a hill, that many say were funded by taxpayers’ money – but we have managed firmly to stand by the sweat of our brow and the industry of our people, especially the private sector and enterprising businessmen who are continuously sustaining this city as a true engine of growth. The private sector’s determination and perseverance are beyond politics that are usually the scourge in many other territories in the country that are traditionally built and held hostage by political patronage.
Indeed, looking back at as early as the 1930s, Naga already had an array of hotels, including the Macandog Dormitory and the Provincial Girls Dormitory of the Dy-Lliacos that catered to students that came from towns far and near, according to a book by Bicol historian Danilo Madrid Gerona. The most sophisticated of the hotels at that time was the “Ritz,” located near the plaza where Crown Hotel now stands. Growing with the rise in hotel business was the food industry. There was the “Naga Rendezvous” that offered Chinese and American cuisine. “Bicol Café, owned by the Ancianos, according to Gerona’s book, was among the biggest restaurants in Naga shortly before the Second World War. It was during that period that the “American regime.” Gerona wrote, “brought Naga to the mainstream of a more dynamic global socio-economic commerce which greatly revolutionized its domestic industries and lifestyle.”