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Palawan - The Philippines' Last Frontier


The island province of Palawan has been declared as a nature sanctuary of the world, and for good reason. It is
wrapped in a mantel of rainforests, outstanding dive sites, majestic mountains, primeval caves, and pristine
beaches. It is surrounded by a coral shelf that abounds with varied and colorful marine life. It boasts of exotic
flora and fauna, like the mousedeer and the scaly anteater, that are found nowhere else.

Palawan waters are among the best in the world, not only for diving but also for fishing. A diver's paradise, it
has miles of sub-surface coral and rainbow reef walls which surround the coasts and coves teeming with rich
marine life.

The El Nido Marine Reserve in Miniloc, El Nido, occupying an area of 96,000 hectares, is a popular nature spot
in the province. It boasts of diverse ecosystems, such as rainforests, mangroves, white sand beaches, coral reefs,
and limestone reefs as well as a variety of fishes, like manta ray and the sea cow or ""dugong,"" known as the
world's rarest marine mammal. It is now one of the country's premier destinations, blessed with amazing
natural scenery, and considered as a sanctuary for various forms of wildlife.

Sta. Lourdes Tagbanua, Puerto Princesa City is where the Honda Bay can be seen. The bay consists of several
islets with shallow reefs, bordering fabulous beaches and small resorts which have become the favorite water
sports destination of local and foreign tourists alike.

The province boasts of extraordinary scenic wonders. African animals from Kenya in Africa - giraffes and
elands, zebras and gazelles – co-exist with endemic Philippine animals, like the Palawan bearcat, mousedeer
and peacock (pheasant), in the Calauit Island Wildlife Sanctuary in Busuanga, considered one of the province’s
most amazing sites. Another sanctuary found in Rio Tuba Village, Bataraza is the Ursula Island Game Refuge
and Bird Sanctuary. This island is a haven for birds that rest and converge two hours before sunset, after a
day's flight.
Palawan is approximately 586 kilometers southwest of Manila, between Mindoro Island on the north, Borneo
on the south, China Sea on the west, and Sulu Sea on the east. Its total land area of 1,489,655 hectares spreads
across the peripheral islands of Busuanga, Culion, Linacapan, Cuyo, Dumaran, Cagayanes, and Balabac. Its
main island measures 425 kilometers long, and 40 kilometers wide. Puerto Princesa, the capital city, is the
chief seaport and the center of trade and commerce.
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Palawan is an island province of the Philippines located in the MIMAROPA region. Its capital is Puerto
Princesa City, and it is the largest province in the country in terms of total area of jurisdiction. The islands of
Palawan stretch from Mindoro in the northeast to Borneo in the southwest. It lies between the South China
Sea and the Sulu Sea. The province is named after its largest island, Palawan Island, measuring 450
kilometers (280 mi) long, and 50 kilometers (31 mi) wide.[3][4]

Palawan is composed of the long and narrow Palawan Island, plus a number of other smaller islands
surrounding the main island. The Calamianes Group of Islands, to the northwest consists of Busuanga Island,
Culion Island, and Coron Island. Durangan Island almost touches the westernmost part of Palawan Island,
while Balabac Island is located off the southern tip, separated from Borneo by the Balabac Strait. In addition,
Palawan covers the Cuyo Islands in the Sulu Sea. The disputed Spratly Islands, located a few hundred
kilometers to the west is considered part of Palawan by the Philippines, and is locally called the Kalayaan
Group of Islands.

Palawan's almost 2,000 kilometers (1,200 mi) of irregular coastline are dotted with 1,780 islands and islets,
rocky coves, and sugar-white sandy beaches. It also harbors a vast stretch of virgin forests that carpet its chain
of mountain ranges. The mountain heights average 3,500 feet (1,100 m) in altitude, with the highest peak
rising to 6,843 feet (2,086 m)[4] at Mount Matalingahan. The vast mountain areas are the source of valuable
timber. The terrain is a mix of coastal plain, craggy foothills, valley deltas, and heavy forest interspersed with
riverine arteries that serve as irrigation.[3]

History :

The history of Palawan may be traced back 22,000 years ago, as confirmed by the discovery of bone fragments of
the Tabon Man in the municipality of Quezon. Although the origin of the cave dwellers is not yet established,
anthropologists believe they came from Borneo. Known as the Cradle of Philippine Civilization, the Tabon
Caves consist of a series of chambers where scholars and anthropologists discovered the remains of the Tabon
Man along with his tools and a number of artifacts.[3]

Ancient times :

Waves of migrants arrived in the Philippines by way of land bridges between Borneo and Palawan. From 220 up
to 263 AD, during the period of the Three Kingdoms, "Little, dark people" living in Anwei province in South
China were driven South by Ham People. Some settled in Thailand, others went farther south to Indonesia,
Sumatra, Borneo. They were known as Aetas and Negritos from whom Palawan's Batak tribe descended.[5]
Other tribes known to inhabit the islands such as the Palawano and Tagbanua, are also descendants of the
early settlers, who came via ice-age land bridges. They had a form of indigenous political structure developed
in the island, wherein the natives had their non-formal form of government, an alphabet, and a system of
trading with sea-borne merchants.[6]

In 982 AD, ancient Chinese traders regularly visit the islands.[5] A Chinese author referred to these islands as
Kla-ma-yan (Calamian), Palau-ye (Palawan), and Paki-nung (Busuanga). Pottery, china and other artifacts
recovered from caves and waters of Palawan attest to trade relations that existed between Chinese and Malay

Pre-colonial era :

In the 12th century, Malay settlers, who came on boats, began to populate the island. Most of the settlements
were ruled by Malay chieftains. These people grew palay, ginger, coconuts, camote, sugar and bananas. They
also raised pigs, goats and chickens. Most of their economic activities were fishing, farming, and hunting by
the use of bamboo traps and blowguns. The local people had a dialect consisting of 18 syllables.[6] They were
followed by the Indonesians of the Majapahit Empire in the 13th century, and they brought with them
Buddhism and Hinduism.[7]

Because of Palawan's proximity to Borneo, southern portions of the island was under the control of the
Sultanate of Borneo for more than two centuries, and Islam was introduced. During the same period, trade
relations flourished, and intermarriages among the natives and the Chinese, Japanese, Arab, Hindu. The inter-
mixing of blood resulted to a distinct breed of Palaweños, both in physical stature and features.[6]

Spanish period :

Taytay, the capital of Calamianes (Spanish Palawan)

After Ferdinand Magellan's death, remnant of his fleet landed in Palawan where the bounty of the land saved
them from starvation. Antonio Pigafetta, Magellan's chronicler named the place "Land of Promise."[5]

The first ever recorded act of piracy in the Philippines happened in Palawan when Chief Tuan Mohamad and
his staff were captured aboard their vessel and taken hostage by the Spaniards who demanded ransom within 7
days consisting of 400 sukats or 190 sacks of clean rice, 450 chickens, 20 pigs, 20 goats and several jars filled
with tuba.[5]

The northern Calamianes Islands were the first to come under Spanish authority, and were later declared a
province separate from the Palawan mainland. In the early 17th century, Spanish friars sent out missions in
Cuyo, Agutaya, Taytay and Cagayancillo but they met resistance from Moro communities. Before 18th
century, Spain began to build churches enclosed by garrisons for protection against Moro raids in the town of
Cuyo, Taytay, Linapacan and Balabac. In 1749, the Sultanate of Borneo ceded southern Palawan to Spain.[6]

In 1818, the entire island of Palawan, or Paragua as it was called, was organized as a single province named
Calamianes, with its capital in Taytay. By 1858, the province was divided into two provinces, namely, Castilla,
covering the northern section with Taytay as capital and Asturias in the southern mainland with Puerto
Princesa as capital. It was later then divided into three districts, Calamianes, Paragua and Balabac, with
Principe Alfonso town as its capital. In 1902, the Americans established civil rule in northern Palawan, calling
it the province of Paragua. Finally, in 1903, pursuant to Philippine Commission Act No. 1363, the province was
reorganized to include the southern portions and renamed Palawan.[6]

American rule :

When the Spaniards left after the 1898 revolution, a civil government was established by the Americans.
Provincial boundaries were revised in 1903, the name of the province was changed to Palawan, and Puerto
Princesa declared as its capital..[6]

Many reforms and projects were later introduced in the province. Construction of school buildings, promotion
of agriculture, and bringing people closer to the government were among the priority plans during this era.[6]

Japanese invasion :

The Palawan Massacre :

During World War II, in order to prevent the rescue of prisoners of war by the advancing allies, on 14
December 1944, the Japanese herded the remaining 150 prisoners of war at Puerto Princesa into three covered
trenches which were then set on fire using barrels of gasoline. Prisoners who tried to escape the flames were
shot down. Others attempted to escape by climbing over a cliff that ran along one side of the trenches, but were
later hunted down and killed. Only 11 men escaped the slaughter and between 133 and 141 were killed. The
site of the massacre can still be visited. The massacre is the premise of the recently published book "Last Man
Out: Glenn McDole, USMC, Survivor of the Palawan Massacre in World War II" by Bob Wilbanks, and the
opening scenes of the 2005 Miramax movie, "The Great Raid".

Liberation :

The island was liberated from the Japanese Imperial Forces by a task force consisting of Filipino and American
military personnel between February 28 and April 22, 1945.

Political divisions :

Palawan consists of 367 barangays and 23 municipalities, and two congressional districts that divide the
province into north and south portions. Thirteen municipalities are considered as mainland municipalities,
and these are, Aborlan, Narra, Quezon, Sofronio Española, Brooke's Point, Rizal, and Bataraza (located south),
Puerto Princesa (positioned in the center), and San Vicente, Roxas, Dumaran, El Nido, and Taytay (found in
the north). The remaining municipalities are island municipalities, and they are: Busuanga, Coron, Linapacan
and Culion (forming the Calamianes group of islands), Cuyo, Agutaya and Magsaysay (the Cuyo group of
islands), Araceli, Cagayancillo, Balabac and Kalayaan (Spratly Islands). The capital Puerto Princesa is a
highly-urbanized city that governs itself independently from the province, but it usually grouped with the
province for statistical purposes.

It has a total land area of 14,896 square kilometer (sq km), which is distributed to its mainland municipalities,
comprising 12,239 km², and the island municipalities, which altogether measure 2,657 km². On the average,
each municipality has an area of 620 km². On the other hand, the island municipality of Cuyo (4,003 km²)
ranks largest in terms of municipal waters. On the latter, the mainland municipality of Sofronio Española has
the smallest marine area with only 485 km².

The largest municipalities are situated in the central and northern mainland, and they are: Puerto Princesa
(2,106 km²), Taytay (1,390 km²), and Roxas (1,220 km²). On the contrary, the smallest local government units
are the island municipalities of Cagayancillo (15.40 km²), Magsaysay (27.70 km²) and Cuyo (57.30 km²). All 24
local government units have 431 barangays as of June 2002.

Demographics :

People and culture

Based on the 2000 census, the population of the entire province is 737,000. The province is a melting pot of 87
different cultural groups and races who live together in peace and harmony. Basically, its culture bears a
strong influence from China, India and the Middle East. Influx of migrants from other parts of the Philippines,
particularly from Muslim Mindanao, accounts for the high population growth rate of 3.98% annually. The
native-born Palaweños still predominate the populace. Eighteen percent is composed of cultural minority
groups such as the Tagbanua, Palawano, Batak, and Molbog.

Language :

There are 52 languages and dialects in the province, with Tagalog being spoken by 28 percent of the people.
Other languages are Cuyonon (26.27 percent), Palawano (11.08 percent), and Ilonggo (9.6 percent). English is
also widely spoken.

Religion :

The predominant religion in Palawan is Roman Catholicism. Pockets of indigenous Muslims can be found in
the southern municipalities with Muslims making up the majority of the population in some municipalities in
the far south like Balabac and Bataraza. Members of the Church of the Foursquare Gospel in the Philippines,
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormons or LDS) are present on Palawan,
as well as the Seventh-day Adventists, Iglesia ni Cristo, Jesus Miracle Crusade, Jesus Touch Fellowship,
LifeChurch (LRCM) and other Christian denominations. There are also Buddhists - mainly Vietnamese
refugees who settled in Palawan, as well as some ethnic Chinese Buddhists. One notable Vietnamese Buddhist
Temple in Palawan being Vihara Van Phat. Most of the ethnic minorities such as Batak and Tagbanwa are
animists, but many have become Christians (usually Protestant) or have joined other sects.

Education :

Enrollment in public elementary schools is steadily increasing. From 146,114 in 2003, the number of students
in the public elementary schools went up to 147,013 in the year 2004 while enrollees in public secondary
schools reached 55,887.[10]

Literacy rate in Palawan is increasing by 2% annually because of expanding access to education. Among these
programs are the establishment of schools in remote barangays, non-formal education, multi-grade mobile
teaching and the drop-out intervention program.[10]

Public schools in the province consist of 623 elementary schools, 126 secondary schools and two universities.
Private schools are as follows: 26 – elementary; 19 – secondary; 4 private colleges and 10 vocational schools.
Some of the private institutions are the Holy Trinity College, Fullbright College, Palawan Polytechnical
College Inc., in Roxas, San Vicente and Puerto Princesa City, Systems Technology Institute (STI), AMA
Computer Learning Center (ACLC) in Puerto Princesa City, San Francisco Javier College in Narra, Loyola
College in Culion, St. Joseph Academy in Cuyo, St. Augustine Academy in Coron and the Coron Technical

Among the public institutions are the Palawan State University, Western Philippines University in Aborlan
and Puerto Princesa, Coron College of Fisheries, Puerto Princesa School of Arts and Trade and the Palawan
College of Arts and Trade in Cuyo, Palawan.

Environment :

Palawan, the only Philippine island cited, is rated by National Geographic Traveler magazine as the best
island destination in East and Southeast Asia region in 2007, and the 13th best island in the world having
"incredibly beautiful natural seascapes and landscapes. One of the most biodiverse (terrestrial and marine)
islands in the Philippines... The island has had a Biosphere Reserve status since early 1990s, showing local
interest for conservation and sustainable development".[11][12]

The province was also categorized as "doing well" in the 4th Destination Scorecard survey conducted by the
National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations, and Conde Nast Traveler magazine voted its
beaches, coves and islets as the tourist destination with the best beaches in Asia.[13] Renowned underwater
explorer Jacques Cousteau has described the province as having one of the most beautiful seascapes in the
world.[14] and Caril Ridley, founder of Palawan Environmental and Marine Studies Center (PEMS) says the
Islands of northern Palawan are destine to become a future destination for Asia's growing economic and
environmental conferencing.

Palawan is the habitat of 232 endemic species. Some of these unique creatures are the metallic-colored
peacock pheasant, the shy mousedeer, the cuddly bearcat, and the reclusive scaly anteater. In the forests and
grasslands, the air resonates with the songs of more than 200 kinds of birds. Over 600 species of butterflies
flutter around the mountains and fields of Palawan, attracted to some 1500 hosts plants found here.
Endangered sea turtles nest on white sand beaches, and the gentle dugong feeds on the seagrass that abound in
Palawan’s waters.[14]

Total forest cover is about 56 percent of the total land area of the province while mangrove forest accounts for
3.35 percent based on the 1998 Landsat imagery. Grasslands dwindled from 19 percent in 1992 to 12.40 percent
in 1998. This is an indication of improving soil condition as deteriorating soil is normally invaded by grass
species. Brushlands increased to 25 percent of the total land area. Sprawled beneath the seas are nearly 11,000
square kilometers of coral reefs, representing more than 35% of the country’s coral reefs.[14]

Notable sites :

Calauit Game Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary

A game reserve and wildlife sanctuary of exotic African animals and endangered endemic animals of Palawan.
The reserve was established on August 31, 1976 by virtue of the Presidential Decree No.1578, this was initiated
in response to the appeal of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to help save African
wildlife when former President Ferdinand Marcos attended the 3rd World Conference in Kenya. By virtue of
the Republic Act 7611 (SEP), administrative jurisdiction of DENR was given to the local government of
Palawan, effective December 31, 1993. Management of the area is the responsibility of the Office of the
Palawan Council of Sustainable Development (PCSD). It is located in Calauit Island in Busuanga.

Coron Reefs, Coron Bay, Busuanga

Seven lakes surrounded by craggy limestone cliffs attract hundreds of nature lovers to Coron Reefs in
Northern Palawan, near the town of Coron. Busuanga Island, whose main town is Coron, is the jump-off point
for numerous dive operators. The principal dive sites are 12 World War II Japanese shipwrecks sunk on
September 24, 1944 by US Navy action. They range in depth from the surface to 40 meters. This large variety
offers exciting wreck exploration for enthusiasts, from novice divers and snorkelers and recreational divers to
experienced TEC divers. Dive operators offer PADI dive courses ranging from Discover Scuba to Assistant
Instructor, Technical and Enriched Air Diving, as well as other specialty courses. Dive operators offer day
diving, snorkeling trips, and overnight dive safaris. Live-aboard and charter boats also offer diving in the area.
The aquatic views from the sunken Japanese warships off Coron Island are listed in Forbes Traveler Magazine’
s top 10 best scuba sites in the world.[13]

El Nido Marine Reserve Park
One of the many beaches of El Nido, a marine reserve park and municipality at the northernmost tip of
Palawan Island.

The January 2008 issue of international magazine Travel + Leisure, published by the American Express Co.
(which partnered with Conservation International) listed El Nido’s sister hotel resorts El Nido Lagen Island
and El Nido Miniloc Island in Miniloc and Lagen Islands as “conservation-minded places on a mission to
protect the local environment.” Travel + Leisure’s 20 Favorite Green Hotels scored El Nido Resort’s protection
of Palawan’s giant clam gardens and the re-introduction of endangered Philippine cockatoos: "8. El Nido
Resorts, Philippines: Guest cottages on stilts are set above the crystalline ocean. The resorts are active in both
reef and island conservation."[15]

Malampaya Sound Land and Seascape Protected Area

Located in the Municipality of Taytay, this important ecological and economic zone is a watershed and fishing
ground, and the habitat of Bottle-nosed and Irrawaddy dolphins.[16]
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