YEARS of bad publicity has put shade to the uniqueness and beauty of Zamboanga City, the Latin City of Asia.
However, efforts by the tourism sector has somehow helped put light into this vibrant city.
Zamboanga City presents a unique cultural tourism experience for its visitors. We see here the blending of Western, Spanish and indigenous influences in their architecture and people. The language spoken here, Chavacano, is a Spanish-based creole language, which is considered as one of the oldest creole languages in the world.
Among Asia's Latin City's iconic historic monuments that highlight its cultural diversity and beauty are the Zamboanga City Hall and the Fort Pilar, both of which have been standing for hundreds of years.
Zamboanga City Hall is one of the icons of Zamboanga City that highlights its cultural diversity.
The Spanish-influenced building was constructed in 1905 by the Federal Government of the United States and completed in 1907.
Since 1907, the historic building served as the seat of different governing bodies; starting as the official residence of the US Military Governor of the Moro Province until 1913. Then it served the seat of the then Department of Mindanao and Sulu from 1914 to 1920. In 1921 it was the seat of government of the Zamboanga Province. In 1937, it served as the seat of the city government of Zamboanga up until now.
Much older than the Zamboanga City Hall is the 17th century defense fortress, Real Fuerza de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragoza (Royal Fort of Our Lady of the Pillar of Zaragoza), also known as Fort Pilar.
The fortress, which was constructed by the Spanish colonial government, highlights the city's cultural influences and heritage.
In the past four centuries, the fort is rich with history dating back to the time of the Spaniards to the American Colonial Period to World War II.
Pilar Fort then became a defense fortress and now serves as a regional museum of the National Museum of the Philippines. A historical monument protecting the history of our nation.
Zamboangueños come here to not only visit the museum but to also pray at the Marian Shrine beside the fort.
Another cultural highlight of the city is the Yakan Weaving Village, which showcases the beautiful woven fabrics and products of the Yakan tribe.
Evelynda Otong, a fourth generation Yakan weaver, said their tribe originally came from Basilan. However, some of them moved to Zamboanga city in 1973.
"Nung 1973, nag evacuate lolo ko dito para maghanap buhay kasi magulo sa Basilan (In 1973, my grandfather evacuated here (Zamboanga City) to look for a job because it was chaotic in Basilan then)," she said.
When they first arrived here, their tribe settled in Cawa-cawa then they transferred to their current location in Calarian.
Otong, who started weaving at seven years old, said the patterns taught to them is passed down from generation to generation. She said they have more than 30 patterns that they follow.
"The Yakan people are nature lovers. Most our patterns are coming from nature like carabao eyes, leaf, diamond, mountains, crabs, fish, and owls," she said.
However, she said they are not the only ones weaving their colorful and unique fabric. Otong said they also serve as a center for Yakan woven products coming from Basilan. She said it is their counterparts in Basilan who are able to cater to bulk orders.
Otong said the Yakan woven fabric was also featured in the Mindanao Tapestry Show, one of the auxiliary events of the 65th Miss Universe Pageant last January.
She said as early as now, she is passing on her knowledge to her 11-year-old daughter.
"Bilang fourth generation (weaver), sisiguraduhin ko na marunong sila (As a fourth generation (weaver), I will make sure they (younger generation) know. Only Yakan can make their patterns," Otong said.
Zamboanga City may not be the first place for some tourists to visit. However, the Latin City of Asia offers a unique cultural experience to visitors coming here.