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MANILA – One of the go-to beaches for Metro Manila residents decades ago is hoping to regain its status among tourists with upcoming projects aimed at improving its image.
Before Boracay became the destination of choice for beach-loving Filipinos, Matabungkay in Batangas was the favored excursion spot for families and barkadas.
April Guzman, who comes from Manila, frequented Matabungkay beach when she was still young.
“Maraming tao. ‘Yun talaga 'yung getaway ng families," she recalled. "Nung time na 'yun, siya yung sikat, at lagi kami pumupunta dahil siya yung sikat noon.”
Guzman said that like most day-trippers to Matabungkay, they would also rent a “balsa,” a bamboo raft, which has a built-in table also made from bamboo.
“Kasama ng balsa, nire-rent ang mga salbabida na parang rubber na kulay black,” she narrated. “Imo-move nila ‘yung balsa medyo dun sa sea.
For guests who would like to stay overnight, cottages are also available for rent by the beach. “Yung mga parang nipa hut, cottages, pinapa-rent din. Doon sila nagse-stay overnight para comfortable. Mainit pero mahangin,” Guzman said.
Barangay Matabungkay councilor Danilo Javier recalled that the town did not have any streetlights before such that it was quite dark at night.
But when tourists started coming in droves, street lights were eventually installed and locals started opening pop-up businesses along the beach.
Matabungkay’s success also contributed to its downfall since the uncontrolled development resulted in overcrowding – not that different from the deluge of people who flocked to Boracay over the Labor Day weekend that has been dubbed “Laboracay.”
Today, visitors to Matabungkay are welcomed by the sight of numerous structures nearly taking over the shoreline. Boats, either for fishing or to offer round-trip rides for tourists visiting the place, jostle for space on the water.
Moreover, the rise of new beach destinations added to the decline of Matabungkay’s tourism fortunes.
Joie Oliveros, the sales and marketing head of the long-standing Matabungkay Beach Resort and Hotel, conceded that while business continues to do well, it has been a challenge for the Batangas barangay to keep up with other beach destinations.
“Hindi na ito kapareho ng dati. ‘Yung mga tao, they have a lot of choices now like Boracay, Bohol, Palawan,” she said, noting that when their resort opened, among their competitors was Puerto Azul in C Cavite, which has also seen better days.
But there is still hope for Matabungkay.
On the other end of the beach, one can still see clear patches of sand. The area appears cleaner, with no overcrowding of boats or “balsas” lined up.
This part of Matabungkay is mostly maintained by privately owned resorts that conduct daily clean-ups of its shores.
There are also efforts to bring Matabungkay back to its former glory. Oliveros noted that rehabilitation of the once-famous beach area started in the early 2000s.
According to Javier, the local government of Lian, Batangas has several projects lined up to improve the area of Matabungkay, which are scheduled to start in October.
Among these efforts are the removal of barkers, a re-zoning of the shoreline, and more rigorous cleaning of the waters.
“May mga project. Unang-una road widening, tapos tabing-dagat pagagandahin at ibabalik sa dati,” he said.
Despite its many problems, Javier pointed out that Filipinos still come to Matabungkay during holidays and festivals, such as the yearly Balsa Festival, which attracted a large number of tourists just last week.
“Kahit hindi i-promote, eto na talaga ang Matabungkay,” Javier said, noting that the reason people come back to Matabungkay has remained the same after all the years — travel time from Manila takes only two hours, making it one of the nearest and most affordable beach destinations for the millions of Filipinos living in the metro.