Community Tech

Smart LTE up in more mountain sites in Cebu

More mountain barangays are now enjoying fast, reliable, and affordable mobile internet connection with the activation of Smart Communications Inc. LTE cell sites. The latest is Barangay Linut-od, 24 kilometers from the Argao town center in Cebu, or about an hour by motorcycle on rough road.

Improved connectivity is boosting livelihood, community efficiency and the general wellbeing of residents of this farming and coal mining village.

Seventy percent of households have members living elsewhere, and residents had to move from one place to another in search of a signal just to keep in touch, said former Argao Mayor Stanley Caminero. “So, when Smart fired up its new LTE cell site, people were ecstatic!”

LTE NOW AVAILABLE. LTE is finally in Linut-od, Argao after Smart fired up their LTE cell site in the mountain barangay. Leading the ceremony to mark the availability are former mayor Stanley Caminero (3rd from left) and Atty. Maria Jane C. Paredes, AVP and Center Head of SMART Public Affairs Visayas and Mindanao.

Contact family members

Among them were farmer Luciano Zamora and wife Lorenza, who see their three grown children only on special occasions. “We are thankful that now the signal is strong even up here in the mountains. We can contact our children anytime, and we don’t even have to leave the house,” said Luciano. It is a comforting thought, in case of an emergency, he added.

Now the couple even get to see their grandchildren, by making video calls using smartphones provided by their children, along with an “allowance” of credit load.

Farmers like Zamora are also learning to search the internet for new and better farming methods, Caminero said. Improved connectivity could also help boost upland tourism through social media, he added.

With better connectivity, families in Linut-od can stay in touch with relatives working far away.

Information dissemination

Councilor Resurreccion Gonzaga of barangay Cabantug said the new technology helps facilitates information dissemination and processing of documents, thus improving efficiency of local government units.

Aside from Linut-od, Smart has also fired up LTE sites in the mountain barangays of Colawin in Argao, and Guba and Bonbon in Cebu City.

LTE can be quickly upgraded to LTE-Advanced (LTE-A), which can provide even greater capacity and speeds to users with capable smartphones. In Cebu, major cities like Cebu City, Lapu-Lapu City, and Mandaue City already have LTE-A sites.

Better connectivity also means peace of mind for Linut-od residents, who can easily contact family especially in times of emergencies.

Fiber backbone

To date, Smart has fulfilled its commitment to the National Telecommunications Commission to cover at least 90 percent of cities and municipalities to address the growing demand for broadband infrastructure and internet access in the country. Supporting Smart’s mobile network is PLDT’s fiber infrastructure, now extending over 259,000 kilometers.

PLDT and Smart’s nationwide network transformation efforts are backed by a historic-high capital expenditure of P78.4 billion this year. The capex investments are to further expand coverage and to increase capacity to handle the exponential growth in data traffic, with the ultimate aim of delivering the best data customer experience.

Linut-od residents can use this improved connectivity to stream videos online and share photos via social media.

Community Feature Tech

Smart holds festival, rekindles love for local stories

Centuries ago, a girl named Maria lived in what is now known as Conalum, a mountainous area in the town of Argao which is about two hours away from Cebu City. People called her Maria Cacao, as she owned a cacao plantation from which they sourced the beans they used to create tablea. To this day, residents of Argao produce these chocolate tablets.

Town Mayor Stanley Caminero shared this legend with a rapt audience of children and adults at the culmination of the three-day “Istorya Mo, Nagpaabot Ako: Kwentuhang Batibot Caravan and Story Festival.” Organized by Smart Communications in cooperation with the local government, the caravan sought to rekindle people’s love for storytelling, especially the sharing of local tales.

Preservation of local heritage, culture

Caminero said the story of Maria Cacao could not be found in any book; it is a story that has been orally passed by Argao locals from generation to generation.

“If you think about it, the oldest heritage is stories,” he said, adding that storytelling is important not just for the preservation of local heritage and culture, but for the education of children as well.

Argao Storytelling
Argao Mayor Stanley Caminero shares the Legend of Maria Cacao with school children.

Aside from Caminero, the festival’s featured storytellers included Rey Bufi of The Storytelling Project, Argao college students and elementary pupils, a parent, a teacher, and Sun.Star Superbalita editors and writers.

The festival also included trainings on storytelling and story writing for Education students of the Cebu Technological University (CTU)-Argao campus.

Make lessons fun

CTU student Chariss Ampoon said that from the trainings given by Bufi and children’s book writer Michael Jude Tumamac, she picked up tips on how to manage a classroom and give life to tales.

Maria Elena Bajo, who teaches second grade in Argao’s Binlod Elementary School, said stories make lessons fun, and can be integrated in a lot of subjects, even Math.

Aside from holding storytelling festivals, Smart also promotes the Batibot app as a way to encourage love for stories among children. Created by Smart in partnership with the Community of Learners Foundation and developer OrangeFix, the app has a feature called “Kuwentong Batibot.”

The Batibot app is the first educational app in the Filipino language that is aligned with the kindergarten curriculum of the Department of Education. It can be downloaded for free on Android devices.

The Batibot app promotes love for storytelling among kids through its Kuwentong Batibot feature.

Modern tools

Through games in the app, such as the Batibot classic “Alin ang Naiba?”, children in their formative years can also learn basic concepts like matching, sorting, and grouping. They are shown how to identify shapes, colors, numbers, the alphabet, and letter sounds. The children can also practice tracing letters with the proper strokes.

Teacher Mira Vissa L. Padron of Argao Central Elementary School said the use of 21st century tools to promote the culture of storytelling would be a big help to them in the classroom. (Press Release)

Feature Places

Coal Mountain Resort in Argao is retreat heaven

On our way to Coal Mountain Resort in Argao, Cebu, we missed a turn and ended up taking a much longer route. What should have been an hour’s drive through scenic (though narrow) mountain roads took the better of two hours.

The first thought that came to my mind when we arrived, wearied from our journey, was, ‘Is this it? Did I just through that harrowing and tiring ride for this?’

You realize later that what you first see when you arrive is only a small part of the whole Coal Mountain Resort.

Resort facilities

coal mountain resort
Coal Mountain Resort in Argao offers a wide view of the surrounding mountains. All three of the resort’s pools get water from a mountain spring.

Some of it is on an adjacent mountain side, accessible by a wooden walkway built along the treetops. Don’t worry, you won’t fall down. Although the canopy bridge sways with the wind, the side railing of the whole span is made of sturdy nets.

coal mountain resort hanging bridge
A hanging bridge built along the tree tops leads to Coal Mountain Resort’s 16-foot diving pool called Kawasan.

Over at this side is a 16-foot deep diving pool fed by water from a freshwater spring. It’s a big private rectangular pool surrounded by trees and with a view of the Argao mountains.

If you want to reach this pool much faster, go through the zipline or by cable car. Both activities are being offered at Coal Mountain Resort for a minimal fee of P100 per ride.

There’s a portion of Coal Mountain Resort that is underground and visitors can choose to explore it. This dark and damp tunnel is not used for mining but it simulates a mining environment.

Tunnel tour

Vice Mayor Stanley Caminero, whose family owns the mountain retreat, said no other resort provides an experience like Coal Mountain’s underground tour.

coal mountain resort tunnel
One of the activities at the resort is an exploration of its demo tunnel.

The cavern also serves another purpose: as venue for tunnel rescue training. Caminero said military personnel conduct their safety drills at the Coal Mountain Resort demo tunnel.

To explore this underground, you need boots and headlamps and a guide. The resort provides all three. If you want the whole works, including overalls, the charge is P80 per person.

tunnel entrance
In our boots and with lamps and a guide, we are ready to explore the Coal Mountain Resort demo tunnel.

Mini zoo

I have to admit that as we got to explore the main Coal Mountain Resort area — with its native huts, two pools, and a view of whole mountain sides, it grew on me. I realize that an overnight stay is not enough to enjoy this mountaintop site.

It wasn’t small as I first thought it was. Resort amenities are built on a slope so you have to go down stairways to access the dining, kitchen, washing, and even the zipline areas. They’re not immediately visible when you first arrive.

coal mountain zipline
A resort guest tries out the 220-meter zipline.

There’s a mini zoo on another downhill area with animals like monkeys, birds, monitor lizards (haw or bayawak in Cebuano), and snakes.

The altar to the Virgin Mary could have been built on another site, though, and not where it obstructed part of the mountain view from the two pools. By the way, the resort fee for unlimited use of the pools, including the third one some distance away, is P100 for adults and P50 for kids.

Resort food

You can bring food and cook this at the resort. If you don’t plan to bring any, you must inform the staff ahead so they can buy the ingredients for your orders. Remember, Coal Mountain Resort is a long way from supermarkets or convenience stores.

Native chicken tinola: the meat was a little hard but it was delicious.
Native chicken tinola: the meat was a little hard but it was delicious.

In our case, we brought raw meat and fish and did the cooking at the resort. We heard about the native chicken tinola (stew) and ordered some. Our buko juice was from young coconuts freshly picked from the trees. It was truly a feast.

There’s no modern stove so we did all the cooking at the dirty kitchen using firewood and coal. The kids, who have only ever seen a gas range or electric stove, chopped the wood, started the fire, and helped with the frying and grilling. It was an experience they’re not likely to forget.

Transport services

If you’re interested in going to Coal Mountain Resort on your own, be forewarned that the way there is confusing. The mountain roads branch left and right and there are no signs to tell you where you are.

We had to regularly stop and ask for directions. Even then, we got lost. Plus, I recommend that you use a four-wheel drive. A big part of the route is asphalted or concreted but there are portions that are heavily damaged and have big craters.

Argao Vice Mayor Stanley Caminero (right), whose family owns Coal Mountain, regularly stays at the resort.
Argao Vice Mayor Stanley Caminero (right), whose family owns Coal Mountain, regularly stays at the resort.

There are existing transport services from Cebu City or from the town center to Coal Mountain Resort. Transport fees depend on the number of people in your party.

For more information on accommodations and amenities and corresponding charges, check out this Coal Mountain Resort blog post I wrote before our visit. For everything Argao – from its historic cabecera to its indigenous industries of torta and tableya – check out our mobile guide to Argao or download our mobile web app.

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