By Chris A. Datol
The country’s “next university town” will not just be a sleepy municipality that travelers will need to pass by to reach Baguio and other northern regions. As of late, progressive development is flourishing around this side of eastern Pangasinan, with a definitive thrust towards education as the key factor to spur tourism and investment potentials.
Schools here will serve more than the purpose of educating youngsters - in fact, the administration of Mayor Ramon N. Guico, Jr. and his son, Vice Mayor Ramon V. Guico III - is banking on the reputation of the University of Eastern Pangasinan (UEP), as the first educational institution being run by a municipality, to jumpstart plans for Binalonan to become the “next university town.”
“We want the whole town to be one big campus,” said Vice Mayor Guico in an interview with Cruising Magazine. “The center of activity will be the UEP, which will be supported by various facilities for students such as our gymnasium, basketball and tennis courts for sports, our garden plaza for conducive gathering and studies, a central transport terminal, a library and community eCenter. That’s why all our projects are aligned towards the university town project. We are aiming to become an educational haven and gateway for commerce in Eastern Pangasinan,” Vice Mayor Guico said.
Opened in 2007, the UEP is equipped with modern facilities such as computer and medical laboratories, a well-stacked library; along with hands on HRM facilities. The school offers subsidized undergraduate and graduate degree-programs for locals and other students from neighboring municipalities. Interestingly, the school is located on the second level of the town market, but instead of being disturbed by all the activity below, the students have learned to block out all distractions and focus on their studies.
The university town concept is further supported by other centers for learning around town, among them the World Citi Colleges (WCC) Aviation Company which offers the first flying school in Northern Luzon. The expansive facility contains the Binalonan Airfield that provides a safe and comfortable runway for private and government aircrafts. WCC is backed by more than 30 years’ experience in tertiary education and four multilevel campuses in Metro Manila. For its part, WCC-Binalonan embraces the town’s college bound students as its major contribution to human resource development.
Other educational institutions in the municipality include St. Michael de Archangel College -the first private college in Binalonan; Manantan Technical School, which offers vocational and technical courses; Holy Child Academy parochial school, Juan G. Macaraeg National High School which houses one of only two Schools of Performing Arts in Region I.
Clean and green
“The Binalonians are proud of their rich cultural heritage and historical legacy:’ Vice Mayor Guico said. The current educational and socio-economic landscape reflects the collective wisdom and hardworking spirit of many generations of Binalonians.
Proof of this is Binalonan’s citation as “The Most Beautiful and Cleanest Municipality” back in the year 1968, with the much-coveted distinction of having the “Most Beautiful Plaza and Parks:’ Other awards the town received include the “Urban Model Community” and “Outstanding Community Development Model”
Much effort is being implemented to maintain the town’s reputation in terms of cleanliness and eco-friendliness, through the town center which hosts the Binalonan Rock Garden. The rock garden evolved into theme gardens that take pride in the majesty of century-old acacia trees. Binalonians and tourists frequently grace this park to savor its romantic ambience, healthy fresh air, walking pavements,benches, BalikbayanHall, basketball court, and unruffled pathways leading to the historic Sto. Nino Parish Church.
As Manaoag’s next door neighbor, Binalonan has also become a convenient detour for pilgrims who frequent the Miraculous Shrine of Our Lady of Manaoag. Here, they have slowly discovered the town’s own religious treasures, urging them to include Binalonan on the religious tour itinerary.
The town is home to the Sto. Nino Roman Catholic Church - a centuries old landmark of Christian faith and social service. This architectural legacy of Spanish colonial Christianity is a unifying symbol of faith history both for local folks and tourists. At Brgy. Sta. Catalina meanwhile can be found the famous Mount Paldingan Stations of the Cross. This pilgrimage site is popular especially during Lent, with devotees trekking the hill to complete the 14 Stations
of the Cross.
Binalonan occupies 8,400 hectares of land, composed of 24 barangays with a population of5 2,722 (as of 2007). It is bounded on the north by Pozorrubuio and Sison; San Manuel and Asingan on the east; Urdaneta on the southern part; and Laoac on the west. It is located 193 kms. from Manila and is classified as a first class municipality.
“When my father assumed office during his first term in 2001, Binalonan was just a fifth class municipality. He implemented a quick turnabout through business investments, improvements in urban planning and zoning and other income generating measures that we eventually reached first class status,” Vice Mayor Guico related.
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