Philippines’ Southern Gateway Wants to Be Known as ‘Asia’s Latin City’

Al Jacinto, Arab News
Publication Date: 
Mon, 2006-09-25 03:00

ZAMBOANGA CITY, 25 September 2006 — Call it corny but “Asia’s Latin City” is what the leaders of Zamboanga City want this key southern Philippine port city to be called.

Mayor Celso Lobregat said the basis for the new name is the existence of local Chavacano dialect, a derivative of the Spanish language that in turn is an outgrowth of Latin, the old Roman tongue.

Chavacano is spoken by a majority of the people in the city, in nearby Basilan Island and other parts of the Zamboanga Peninsula.

“We are the only city in Asia that speaks the Chavacano dialect, which is derived from the Spanish language,” he said.

The city government formally launched last month the branding of Zamboanga as “Asia’s Latin City” during the opening of the 15th Mindanao Business Conference in the city.

Zamboanga has been known as the “City of Flowers,” but Lobregat said other cities in the country could be more abundant with flowers nowadays.

The beautiful mountain resort city of Baguio in the northern Philippines, for one, celebrates the Panagbenga flower festival every February.

“Zamboanga City has been variably called the ‘Convention Capital of the Country’ or the ‘Sardines Capital,’ because canning factories here provides about 70 percent of all sardines sold and consumed in the country today,” he said.

Yet, the city has what others may not have at all — Chavacano, where more than 70 percent of its vocabulary is Spanish in nature and origin.

The remaining percentage of Chavacano is picked from local dialects, according to the official Philippine News Agency. The growth of Chavacano in Zamboanga can be traced to a concentration of Spanish nationals in Zamboanga at the height of the Spanish colonization efforts in Mindanao that lasted for centuries until the late 19th century.

“The branding of Zamboanga as Asia’s Latin city is the result of the City Development Strategies program spearheaded by the League of Cities, the World Bank and the involvement of the different local sectors,” Lobregat said.

Local officials hope the new name would give the city a positive shift since it carries an international appeal and it is anchored on the rich Castilian influence.

They hope it will provide the city with a competitive global outlook instead of being compared with other cities in Mindanao. Call centers, such as G-Com, has started recruiting agents from Zamboanga because they could easily be trained to speak Spanish. Spanish is the world’s second most spoken language after English and call centers need Spanish-speaking agents to serve their clients in Central and South America and Europe.

Lobregat also unveiled on Thursday a theme logo for next month’s celebration of the Fiesta Pilar. With the theme, “Alegria! Alegria! Adelante Zamboanga,” Lobregat said the weeklong feast, held every Oct. 12, is expected to draw thousands of tourists because of the city’s rich cultural past.

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