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By Kab. Jigger J. Jerusalem, PH Contributor

MISAMIS ORIENTAL -– For as long as she can remember, Rosela Jagonal has been making “bibingka,” a local bite-size cake made mainly of glutinous rice and coconut milk, in her hometown in Manticao, Misamis Oriental. 

One can say that “Nanay Rosela,” as she is fondly called by her family and friends, was the reason why the town became known for its delicious bibingka, at the time when nobody had yet thought of selling it on a commercial scale as this delicacy was made only by the townspeople during special occasions such as fiestas and birthdays.

“I started making and selling bibingka in 1977. I was the first here in Manticao,” Jagonal said in the vernacular.

At the age of 81, Jagonal is still at it, mixing the ingredients, checking the batches of bibingka inside the makeshift oven if they are ready to be taken out, giving instructions to two young men who act as her helpers.

Surprisingly, the octogenarian is not suffering from any life-threatening illness, although she sometimes complains of joint pains as is normal for people her age. 

Jagonal, a mother of seven, said she got the idea from her mother, but only decided to go fulltime into making bibingka when her husband died when she was in her late ‘30s.

Nanay Rosela Jagonal puts a batch of “bibingka” (small rice cake) in the makeshift oven in the town of Manticao, Misamis Oriental province, Northern Mindanao, Philippines. Her “bibingka” is being sought by travelers and tourists alike. (Jigger J. Jerusalem)

She admitted that her bibingka was not as tasty as it is today when she was just starting out, but has perfected the flavor over time.

She began selling bibingka along the national highway in Manticao town, hoping motorists would stop by and buy this snack item.

Through the years, Jagonal’s “sukì” (repeat customers) grew and would buy dozens of the delicacy whenever they pass by Manticao on their way to other parts of Mindanao.

Today, Jagonal’s roadside shop that doubles as her cooking area sells an average of 400 pieces of bibingka a day. 

“I have a secret, but it’s not in the ingredients. It’s in the mixture of the ingredients,” she said.

An increase in the price of sugar, however, has forced Jagonal to reduce the size of her bibingka. Before she would sell the bibingka at P5 per piece; now it’s P20 for four small pieces.

Inspired by Jagonal’s popularity, other Manticao residents have also started their own bibingka businesses.

The town is only one of the places in Misamis Oriental that is known to visitors. There are other attractions in the provinces that draw local and foreign tourists who want to have a taste of Misamis Oriental.

Here are some of the province’s tourist sites:

The Lagbas ancestral house 

Already more than a hundred years old, the Lagbas Ancestral Home in Subongcogon town, Misamis Oriental, is among the few houses in the province that is rich in history, with few past presidents of the country as some of its guests. (Jigger J. Jerusalem)

Established in 1921, the Lagbas ancestral house in Barangay Poblacion, Sugbongcogon town, was built by Don Benedicto Lagbas. This heritage home serves as the residence of the other members of the Lagbas clan. Known as “Dako Balay” (big house) in the vernacular, the Lagbas ancestral house features the Spanish and Japanese architectural elements inside and outside this home. 

The house has played many roles in the country’s colonial history, serving as a place of refuge for affected residents during the Second World War; also as temporary school for children, a makeshift hospital, and a place of many political gatherings where past presidents like Diosdado Macapagal, Ferdinand Marcos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as some of the special guests.

Provincial tourism officer Jeffrey Saclot said the provincial government is working for this tourist destination to be declared as a national cultural heritage site by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).

Tubajon Aquamarine Park

The Tubajon Aquamarine Park is located in Laguindingan town, Misamis Oriental province, Northern Mindanao, Philippines, whose coastline was declared as the cleanest in a nationwide contest in 2017. (Jigger J. Jerusalem)

The Tubajon Aquamarine Park, which recently won in a nationwide competition for the cleanest coastline in 2017, is considered the largest aquamarine park and fish sanctuary in Misamis Oriental province, spanning 22 hectares of mangrove forest.

“We want to preserve the ecotourism setup there (Tubajon), that means no concrete structures, just bamboo and other native materials, and we are planning on expanding the mangrove plantation,” Saclot said.

Sagpulon Falls

Its refreshing water and majestic cascade are what attract people to come to Sagpulon Falls in Jasaan town, Misamis Oriental. (Jigger J. Jerusalem)

Sagpulon Falls is a 150-foot cascade, gracing the mossy cliff of Jasaan, Misamis Oriental. The gigantic falls is escorted by random springs with different sources which sprouts are unaffected by long drought. The falls is just 6.5 kilometers from the national highway. It is recommended to visit this destination during the wet season because the cascades of the falls may be thinner during dry season.

Local and exotic animals are housed at the Mantianak Botanical Garden and Zoological Park, where children and adults can visit and view. It is located in Sugbongcogon town, Misamis Oriental. (Jigger J. Jerusalem)