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May 1, 2020

May 1, 2020

Dear Members and Friends:

 

I am writing this from Balesin at the start of May, in the midst of the worldwide coronavirus crisis.

I have been in Balesin for a month and a half now, since the beginning of the lockdown in the middle of March. I am on the island with my son Julian, daughter Michelle, her husband Frank, and my 18-month old granddaughter, Lia, whose antics keep us entertained every day.

I am embarrassed to say that we are “enduring” Balesin during this lockdown. Balesin remains COVID-free and we can go about our normal lives on the island. However, we are extremely careful about letting anybody in to the island, and are accepting neither members nor guests.

I feel almost guilty that our biggest decision of the day is what to have for lunch or dinner, as we have fresh seafood and all else in abundance. The other tough daily decision is what Netflix movie to watch every evening.

We have kept ourselves busy here in Balesin with a multitude of new projects which you will see soon enough. The most interesting development is that we have now a thriving lobster farm under the Fish Fun restaurant. In early March, we discovered a lobster nursery located in Katakian Grande Island, which is adjacent to Patnanungan Island where we are working on our Balesin International Gateway. Work on Patnanungan has slowed down significantly, because of the lack of construction materials. But in that little barangay in Katakian, we discovered a wonderful lobster nursery farm, the only one in the Polillo Island group. We have now purchased some 300 kilos of lobster, in various sizes, from Katakian and in fact, two of the members of the Borzo family who own that nursery have come to Balesin to guide us in managing our own lobster farm.

I have tasted lobster all around Asia and of course, in Europe and in the U.S., but I have never tasted, no exaggeration, lobsters as delicious as these. They, in fact, are eating almost three times what they are fed in Katakian and it is obvious that they love the pure waters of Balesin. The next time you come to the island, and you have lunch at Fish Fun, we will pull up one of the lobster cages and you will be amazed at the thriving lobsters (about 30 in a cage), and you can choose some for your lunch. I assure you, you will love them!

Our vannamei shrimp continue to thrive. We have harvested some 7,000 kilos in the last four months and in fact, have been selling them to our members in Manila.

We also discovered that the fishermen from our barangay can catch 300-400 kilos of fresh fish daily, and we buy all of their catch and send most of them to Manila.

In addition, at the start of the lockdown, we decided to make salt beds in Balesin. I found out that we have been “importing” salt from the Cavite, Bataan, and Zambales areas, where waters are nowhere near as pure and unpolluted as Balesin. We will have our first harvest tomorrow, package the sea salt properly, and sell it to our members and guests.

We have also expanded our Duck Farm. We have created two large duck ponds behind the Sports Center and we will thus be producing four times as many duck eggs as we have in the past. Our balut has been a bestseller and in the future, in addition to balut, we shall also be producing penoy and salted red eggs (itlog na maalat).

Our Guinea Fowl Farm continues to thrive and we have now decided to add two more farms, one with free-range chickens and the other with turkeys. As you know, free-range chickens produce the best eggs and pretty soon, there will be enough supply in Balesin.

We have also expanded our organic farms by adding almost five hectares to our cultivated fields. One is near Rico’s Hideaway, where we will be planting mostly root crops and corn. The other is in another area which the barangay natives call Tahik, in the area between Bali and St. Tropez, where there is what they call the “Banana Republic,” which produces tons and tons of saba bananas.

After we reopen, we will convert the Souvenir Shop at the Departure Area into a “farmer’s market” stall, where you can buy to take home with you fresh lobster, fresh shrimp, “fresh catch of the day” fish from our barangay fishermen, sea salt, and Balesin-grown fruits and vegetables.

We plan to reopen on May 16, the day after the ECQ ends. May 16 is a Saturday and we expect a large number of members and guests. During the lockdown period, we have had many requests for bookings in Balesin but of course, because of the government’s ECQ, we had to turn them down.

  1. All members and guests, before they board the aircraft in Manila or Clark, will be administered the RDT. This is a quick test which draws a drop of blood from your finger and doesn’t hurt at all. The results are known within 15 minutes.


  2. They will all also undergo thermal scanning.


  3. On the airplane, they will be required to wear surgical masks which we will distribute at the hangar.


  4. Upon arrival at Balesin, they will again undergo thermal scanning.


  5. We will allow a maximum of 200 people on the island at any one time. Thus, bookings will have to be on a “first come, first served” basis. This is to ensure that we can enforce social distancing. Occupants of a villa must all be part of the same family who have been living together on the mainland.


  6. Social distancing will be strictly enforced on the beaches and all public places on the island, including the Clubhouse and the Sports Center.


  7. There will be two seatings for all lunches and dinners at the Clubhouse and all other restaurants on the island. This will reduce the number of diners at the restaurants at any one time so that we can readily enforce social distancing.


  8. We have also installed hand sanitizers at the Welcome Center and at the entrance to the Clubhouse, the entrance to all the villages, all toilets, and other strategic places on the island.


By next week and before reopening, we will send more detailed requirements for all visitors intending to visit Balesin, whether they are members or guests.

Balesin has been totally COVID-free during the lockdown and we are determined to keep it that way.

The Amazing Airfare promotion ended on April 30. You will recall that, prior to this special offer, the round-trip rates were Php7,000 (plus VAT) for members and for guests Php8,000 (plus VAT). During the promotion, rates were reduced to Php2,000 (plus VAT) for members and Php5,000 (plus VAT) for guests. Upon reopening, the airfare rates will be Php3,000 (plus VAT) for members and Php6,000 (plus VAT) for guests.

I am sorry that I cannot be my usual chatty self in this update. Life has changed for all of us.

 

ROBERTO V. ONGPIN
Chairman