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Palawan's Isla Felomina: Beyond Her Diving, Snorkeling Zone

While most households in Puerto Princesea City on the Palawan island enjoy the convenience of electricity, the 691 inhabitants of Brgy. New Panggangan see electrical energy as a luxury. No electric line or road reaches this barangay in the northwest part of the city.

To raise the basic need, Gary Bacolod (President of the cooperative managing Isla Felomina) and Rosslyn Kaya, two of their officials, said the households share a certain number of generators to light their houses.

In regular days, patriarchs of the families would go fishing and farming while their wives stay at home to take good care of their children and the house. However, the set up in this remote barangay changed started March this year.

For months, the locals have been working on a project that would not just provide them additional source of income but also to protect one of their inheritances.

Sharing the Tourism Bliss of the Puerto Princesa Underground River

In 2015, the locals have made up their mind to submit a barangay resolution to ask for help from the Puerto Princesa Underground River tourism board  to develop Isla Felomina a tourist attraction.

For years, the locals have seen tourists landing on the Isla Felomina which offers a 1.5 hectare haven for tourists. They enjoy snorkeling and diving recreations in the less known spot a few minutes away from  the Underground River.

The island sits meters away from the beach of New Panggagan. It serves as an absorbing wall for the high waves coming from the ocean. Thus when the flashing reaches the shores of New Panggangan, the height of the waves become moderate.

Since no one is on the island to monitor these tourists except for the tour guide, the future of the island in the hands of these strangers could not be determined. Thus, the locals needed to strengthen their authority over all activities on Isla Felomina.

Bacolod recalled more than 40 locals have agreed to contribute labor and resources to build a snorkeling and diving site station around the island.

He said a “bayanihan”effort made things smooth sailing. Many of them donated bamboo to create a balsa that would transport people from their beach to the nearby Isla Felomina.

Later on, they were able to build a hut that served as a concierge on the shore. They also erected a floating hut for those who go on watching coral reefs around the island.

Our Own Maiden Trip to the Island

If there is a word that I could equate the island to, that would be “vibrancy”. It was full of hope and interest, thanks to the magnificent locals.

Only two tourists supervised by a tour guide were there when we arrived in the last week of May this year. But the best thing was the smiles from the locals waiting for us. They are part of the 35 members of their cooperative working on shift to serve tourists coming to that place.

From the port, we traveled for around an hour to get to the island passing by the site of the Underground River.

We sat with the locals who were resting from their humble offer that day- to cook us lunch. They prepared us two seafood dishes which we really enjoyed.

I ate with my bare hands, picking the tiny fish bones while sharing stories with the locals. Fresh coconuts were also served to quench our thirst before went on snorkeling.

Honesty, I do not know how to swim so I relied on the life vest the whole time. It was my first time to go snorkeling, and I was very amazed with the coral reefs.

“Walang ganito sa bundok,” I exclaimed when I got out of the water to rest on the floating hut.

In fact, it was one of the moments I got my phone off so I could fully internalize what my “now” was all about.

Other Supporting Hands: Pilipinas Shell, United Nations 

Hours passed by and yet I am still feeding myself with the vibrancy of the island and the magnificence of the locals managing it.

However, it was not just me who fell in love with the efforts of these locals. Oil company Pilipinas Shell has heard about the story of these locals and are working to give their share.

According to the locals, Shell will support them acquire a new balsa, build a floating restaurant, and masks to be rented to tourists.

In the proposal sent to the United Nations Development Fund (UNDF), they identified they need cottages for commercial use, station house on top of the island for staff, lighthouse, kayak facility, diving mask, and a boat to carry the locals on shift.

Asked about the revenue, the locals said 5% of the income will go to the barangay since the island is still on public ownership. I even joked to Bacolod that I do not wish to see Isla Felomina leased to a private company when I come back.

Visit Isla Felomina Now

Isla Felomina is covered by the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. It is officially open to people wanting to experience with the raw beauty of Mother Nature.

The locals said they get bookings from the information center at the port to the Underground River. They offer a boat for six persons at P2,000 only.

The entrance fee is P168 if without lunch. If with lunch, it is at P360 which is still very affordable.

Lunch is being cooked by the locals on shift. I got interested in the menu, and they said they serve kamoteng kahoy, buko, bukayo, hilaw na saging with niyog, and other native delicacies.

Before we left the island, we were shown with the top of the island where the lighthouse would be built if the plan would succeed. 

I also had the chance to ask Bacolod if they do dynamite fishing there, and he admitted that the locals there did but no longer practice it nowadays.

I left the island with my heart singing a tune praising these people of New Panggagan with their empowered acts. They needed no government to mobilize their lives despite having no electricity at home.

Christian is a Marketing Communications practitioner in Quezon City. He is an Igorot from Sagada, Mountain Province. To get in touch with him, please shoot an email to christianaligonow@gmail.com.


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