Bantayan

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To writing by and about the sea; to learning the plight of its stewards; to knowing the names of its bounties as if they were some ancient chant. Litob. Bunsod. Subagyo. Tikos. Bawo. Miroy. Sikad – Sikad; to realizing that you will never know all of its secrets no matter how many times you visit, and how hard you try; to finding comfort in not knowing.

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Jagna

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Jagna seems to be the Anda of three years ago – quiet, determined, and on the brink of major change. The strategy has shifted from agriculture and trading to ecotourism. It has all the ingredients for that too – white pebbled beaches, rare black corals, and a living heritage in its iconic product, calamay.

Tourists will come in droves soon. But in the meantime, I’m going to enjoy this secluded three-cottage alcove. Most locals don’t know it exists. The place doesn’t even have a name yet, so I can still call it mine. For now.

Sabang

Delfin is a guide in Sabang, Palawan’s mangrove paddle boat tour. He sings about the need to preserve these 30-meter mangrove trees that house most of Palawan’s rare species including snakes, birds and fingerlings.

“Huwag lang kayo magagalit, Maam, ha kung may ituturo ako.” he warns this ophidiophobic. He points to two snakes, a monitor lizard and some birds along the way. But my favorite, by far, are the trees and that, in this island, buildings become elfin creatures in their presence.

Palawan

I’ve prejudged Palawan. Labels such as “best island in the world” and “7th wonder” often throw me off. However, despite its newfound popularity, Palawan seems to stay true to its core, tipping its decisions in favor of nature. It paces its progress, not wanting to grow too much or too fast.

I need to backpack my way the next time around. There’s far too much to see.

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To trees that bend down to kiss the water.

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There is a branch here waiting for me and a book to come back.

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There’s plenty of bat jokes to go around with these tourist guides.Trained by international organizations, their spiels are bordering pun-ny and yet they pull it off quite effectively.

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The rock face that greets you at the shoreline before the Underground River.

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Aloguinsan

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I met a crystal healer in Aloguinsan. She said she saw in me such profound sadness, that what hovers around my chakras are too many questions. She gave me a bracelet with Amazonite for strength, Lapis lazuli for healing and Aquamarine for balance. It’s now on my wrist. I’m waiting for it to dispel the questions, just as quickly as the sea seemed to move away from Aloguinsan’s shore.

Laguna

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It’s a familiar sight in an unfamiliar plane. Trees have fallen or have been left leafless. Coconuts, used for their famous buko pies, have been cut in half. Tin roofs have been opened so violently that a companion aptly remarks “Mura man di kibaw mogamit ug abridor.”

This is Rizal, Laguna, left devastated by the recent Typhoon Glenda, the strongest storm the municipality has experienced in over a century.

I say there is no better time to visit it. It’s as if the place, like a woman after surgery, bare and lethargic, looks you straight in the eye and says with utmost conviction “I am still beautiful.”

This photo was taken at the foot of Mount San Cristobal. When I asked this man how he was faring after the typhoon, he looks at his horse with a spark in his eye and says “O, two meals a day na muna tayo ngayon ha.”

Anda

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With an 18-kilometer stretch of white sand, Anda is considered Bohol’s next big thing. But right now it collects people who seek a certain isolation from trendier places, say, Panglao.

And they have caves and hanging coffins too. Oh, do places surprise.

On Manny Pacquiao

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I never understood the Philippines’ penchant for Pacquiao and boxing altogether. Until one day, in vino veritas, a fisherman explains how Manny becomes a great equalizer, just like cockfighting, or lotto.

Rich and poor understand the struggle to fight just as all understand the struggle to win.