Lubang Island, Occidental Mindoro
I was reading Khaled Hosseini’s “A Thousand Splendid Suns” book when my companions called me for breakfast. I quickly proceeded to our table situated few paces from the shore to fuel up my energy for the day.
While having our meal by the beach, we were discussing our plans to finish our task before lunch so we would have more time to roam around the island. There were four of us; all students pursuing our graduate degree in communication management. One of our subjects brought us to Lubang Island in Occidental Mindoro to study and assess the progress of One Laptop per Child (OLPC) program — a project for education initiated by the municipality’s mayor together with various private groups. Since we are a bunch of adventure seekers, we chose this location over the same project implemented in one school in Tondo, Manila.
The preparation for this trip was quite challenging given that one of our goals was to conduct a series of interviews with teachers, students, parents, and a local government official. We also had to do extensive research weeks prior to our scheduled immersion with the limited information from internet regarding the background of the island.
Given these facts to deal with, little did we expect that our on-assignment-trip would uncover not just an exceptional project for education of a local government unit but also a piece of gem in Region IV-B.
Dialogue with the Town’s Father
Shortly after breakfast, we went straight to municipal hall of Lubang town. The establishment has two floors bearing cream-yellow, white, and light brown shades. With its windows wide open, it resembles to an old house converted into municipal hall. As we moved towards the wooden door with heads remained tilted, we were wondering how many employees can fit inside. The tourism officer welcomed and ushered us upstairs for our early morning appointment with the mayor. While waiting for our turn to get seated, our attention was captured by the framed photographs hanging on the walls. They are popular places in town but all are unknown to us.
We were asked to come inside the mayor’s office a few minutes after. He has a modest non-air-conditioned space. He doesn’t have his own room. What separates his space from his employees is only a piece of plastic or wood neatly covered in blue-green linen. Mayor Juan M. Sanchez invited us to sit. We then began firing our questions about his project particularly the OLPC. When he started answering, our ears seemed locked to his words.
Sanchez’s priority in his term is to give the students of Lubang the best education during their primary and secondary years for them to be fully-geared and competitive if they choose to study in reputable universities in college. For him, access to quality education shouldn’t spare his community despite being branded as one of the poorest towns in MIMAROPA. Aside from that, we later learned that he is also an advocate of environmental protection. In fact, he required students of all secondary schools in Lubang to visit tourist destinations and protected areas in their island. This move, he believes, would encourage students to protect their abundant treasures.
Our interview was sealed with an invitation to visit these destinations. While his powerful words kept making roars on our minds, his invitation to explore was surely a melody we all wanted to sing.
And so we heeded his call when the sun was too high after our midday’s meal. We then found ourselves on Cabra Island.
There was something mystic the way I received this place, different from any other island I’ve been to. This island-barangay — which is also part of Lubang Island — is just 30 to 40 minutes away from its nearest barangay, but when we started trudging its winding semi-paved roads, we all felt that we were moving towards an old civilization in the west.
Supply of electricity in the area runs from 6 p.m to 6 a.m. only. Water resources also seem scarce and distant as people have to go to their neighbors to fetch water from deep wells. Pigs and goats are tied on trees while cows enjoy too much freedom because they are visible everywhere. And it’s worth noting that we saw more cows roaming around the barangay’s narrow streets than humans. Maybe the latter were having siesta under Talisay trees on a humid afternoon when we visited.
Cabra Island is famous for its lighthouse protruding in the middle of the rice fields that turn dry during summer. The structure looks mighty like a soldier guarding the whole island.
The beach isn’t anyone’s typical swimming spot. It is pebbly and not pure white. But its inescapable quietness would bring one’s mind to pure recreation. When you’re there, the beach becomes yours. And your only enemy is time, especially when your stay is too brief for you to make most of the moment.
If someone with keen mind would see the island not just as a barangay separated from its counterparts, he would appreciate the kind of living this place has in store. Its environment is so engrossing. And I was a witness to it.
I have been to far-flung areas of Luzon and Mindanao, every place made an instant impact on me. But none of the provinces of these two regions made me feel so withdrawn and isolated than that of Lubang Island, considering that it is only three hours away from the port of Batangas.
From Lubang’s port, its typical province vibe diminishes as you travel through its inner barangays. Atmosphere morphs from quaintness to seclusion. Residents speak in pure Tagalog. Not that it actually matters, but the way they utter each word sound very full and passionate. They use terms such as “Ama (Dad)” and “Ina (Mom)” when calling their parents, and “Silangan (East)” and “Kanluran (West)” when giving directions. These are the words I only read in Filipino textbooks and hear from actors in classic Filipino telenovelas. I do not remember using them, even those in my generation. People of Lubang however articulate them impeccably and beautifully. And it enticed me to spark conversations with the locals.
The existence of idyllic place, laid-back community, and simple living flourishes in Lubang Island complemented by its warm people. Our school project turned out to be a short vacation where I enjoyed three mornings having coffee by the beach while whiling away time with a book. This routine was accompanied by the gentle waves crashing on the shore and by the calming air enveloping the atmosphere which brought me scent of peace.
I was still enjoying my last day at the resort when I joined my companions again for breakfast. This time, we were preparing to leave. Before closing Hosseini’s book which I was reading since our first day, I got stuck in a quote that says, “One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs, or a thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.”
Veering from the book’s analogy, this quote reminds me that I wouldn’t see what is out there unless I go out and find the answer. So I took my last glance at the boundless sea of Lubang and told myself, “I will count shimmering moons and splendid suns again in the coming days.”