By Jesse C. Ong
A tagline easily catches one’s fancy upon passing the town’s arch and it reads: “Botolan yours to discover”.
Rightfully so, there are loads of interesting things that every visitor ought to find out about the first-class municipality, which is located south of Iba, provincial capital of Zambales and just 197 kilometers from Manila.
From its wide gray sand beaches to its other panoramic attractions, it’s certain that those who set foot in Botolan for the first time would leave the town mesmerized and planning for unlimited returns.
Curiously, Botolan was among those heavily affected by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991. But instead of allowing itself to be buried underneath tons of lahar and volcanic ashes, the town emerged mightily from the disaster to become the tourism haven that it is today.
From being an obscure town that was away from the radar of foreign and local visitors for several years, Botolan is now a language almost spoken in every breath by those seeking a memorable weekend getaway.
Botolan’s meteoric rise from the ashes and its incredible transformation into a tourism paradise, however, did not happen overnight.
In fact, it took a lot of painstaking effort and strategic planning by the town’s leadership before Botolan was able to attain its current status as a progressive municipality that thrives on its rich natural resources.
Newly-elected Zambales 2nd District representative Doris “Nanay Bing” Maniquiz, who served as Botolan municipal mayor for nine years, proudly related that they managed to rake in quite a fortune from their tourism industry.
It turned out that most people got lured into visiting Botolan not only for its beaches, but also to experience the adventure of trekking Mt. Pinatubo’s crater, which was the town’s main tourism activity before it was halted at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In just a span of three years from 2016-2019, we were able to generate over P46 million from our tourism industry alone,” Maniquiz beamed.
With the 57-year-old neophyte lawmaker at the helm of Botolan’s effort towards further economic growth, the town has become a hallmark of progress with the construction of its own public collegiate institution, hospital, modern public market, Botolan Peoples plaza and a newly-built municipal hall that looks more like an architectural masterpiece rather than just the town’s seat of power. It also boasts of a state-of-the-art multi-purpose evacuation center funded by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), which is currently in the thick of construction.
Looking back, it was hardly imaginable that Botolan, a municipality comprised of 31 barangays and known for its large Aeta population, could stand toe-to-toe against other highly-progressive towns especially as it was not earning much revenue.
“When we first assumed the leadership of Botolan, the town was only earning less than P10 million. Now, our annual income is nearing the P50 million mark, and it’s highly attributable to our vibrant tourism industry and our earnings from lahar,” Maniquiz explained.
Just like the Botolan’s arduous rise from Pinatubo’s ashes, Maniquiz’s political ride was not entirely smooth-sailing. Before she became one of the town’s most successful and beloved chief executives, the former Engineering Instructor had her share of pitfalls, and she counted the year 2004 as among the most difficult times of her life.
“That was when I first ventured into politics and lost. Natalo na ako, naghiwalay pa kami ng asawa ko,” she emotionally recalled.
But, however devastating the experience may be, Maniquiz was not one to just roll down and die. In fact, she used it to gear herself up for a strong comeback years later and successfully steered Botolan to where it is now with her best friend and namesake Doris Ladines, the town’s vice mayor.
“Simple lang naman ang prinsipyong sinusunod ko sa pamumuno. Kung ano ang makabubuti sa nakararami, doon ako,” she concluded while boasting that even their sports development programs were thriving, having produced countless athletic scholars who represented Botolan in various sports meets.