Pristine Sorsogon

Pristine Sorsogon

By Apolinario Villalobos


Little, if ever has been known about Sorsogon, but that was when bus trips from Manila all the way to Mindanao were scarce. Some even forget that the Bulusan lake and volcano that they learned from geography books in elementary are found in Sorsogon. I had the opportunity to have a glimpse, though a quickie one, of this province, known in Philippine legendary stories as Ibalong.


Two Agustinian friars, Juan Orta and Alonzo Jimenez in the company of Captain Enrique de Guzman, set foot on Hibalong, a village near the mouth or Ginangra River, where they erected the first chapel ever built in Luzon. Later, the village became known as Ibalong to which the whole region has been referred. The contingent continued their exploration of the region until they reached Pilar and Camalig which is now part of Albay. A little later, the Abucay-Catamlangan Mission was established.


The rest of the towns established by the missionaries were Gibalon in 1570 (today, a sitio of Magallanes), Casiguran in 1600, Bulusan in 1631, Pilar in 1635, Donsol in 1668, Magallanes in 1860, Sorsogon in 1866 and Irosin in 1880. The province was established in October 17, 1894 and named as Sorsogon which its namesake town, as its capital.


Sorsogon has metamorphosed into a highly developed province, from the time I have made it a part of my adventure in 1980….


From Masbate, I took a two-decker ferry, the M/V Matea early one morning. From the lodging house, I trudged the wet road to the pier where I found the ferry outlined in the slowly fading darkness of the horizon. Before I boarded the ferry, I dallied in a roadside stall for a cup of coffee and hard-boiled egg. But just before I could even have a single sip of the instant coffee, the heavily overcast sky let go of a steady drizzle followed by a sudden downpour. I hurriedly boarded the ferry with my cup of coffee and hard-boiled egg, the old woman vendor running after me as in my haste, I forgot to pay her.


Passengers who came from far-off islands and who spent their night on the ferry were just beginning to stretch when I took the stair to the second deck and chose the most comfortable- looking canvas lounging chair.


The rain prompted the boat hands to let down the deck covers. In this part of the Philippines, the weather tends to be very unpredictable so that a traveler has to be prepared at all times, although, the locals say that their summer is punctuated by rains.


The morning I took the ferry to Bulan, radio stations were blaring news reports that a typhoon was battering Manila and the rest of northern Luzon. But what we experienced in Masbate was just a sudden downpour that gave way to a steady drizzle. There was even a bit sunshine when the ferry finally pulled away from the wharf. The sky opened up when we were sailing out of the bay.


Following the southwestern trip of Ticao island, we crossed the opposing currents. The eastern side of the island was a delight to see. A great stretch of white beach greeted my eyes. It’s different when it was viewed from a distance. I had another impression when I visited it just the day before. All the way from Batuan to San Jacinto, the sandy shore fringed by coconut trees looked like a paradise.


While feasting my eyes on the shoreline of Ticao, a show-off stingray suddenly popped out of the calm sea and glided above the waves to the delight of the passengers. A middle-aged man beside me said that there were also times when a school of dophins would escort the ferry halfway to Bulan. It’s what I was hoping would happen but which unfortunately did not, until we reached the port. Bulan, despite its strategic location was comparably slow in catching up with its neighboring towns. It was practically limited to its role as an “overnight town” for commuting passengers.


The word “Bulan” was derived from the “big moon” which the natives experienced during the visit of a Spanish expedition group. That time, the phenomenon excited the natives excited so that when asked about it by the Spaniards, they pointed to the big moon while exclaiming “Builan”. In the fields of Sta. Remedios, can be found a WWII relic, a Japanese tunnel. Aside from the said historical landmark, Bulan’s other natural attraction are the Ubo and Bayugin Falls.


The province of Sorsogon is surrounded with straits and bays. Only a thin land bridge connects it to the Bicol peninsula and entrenched in the southeastern bend facing the Sorsogon Bay is the capital city. The province virtually encloses Sugot Bay which empties into Albay Gulf. Separating the hook-like mass of land from Samar is San Bernardino Strait which is also a link between Pacific Ocean on the east, Ticao and Burias Pass on the west.


The topography of the province is hilly but compared to that of other provinces of the region, it is less jagged. Mountain ranges break its irregular surface and of its six major elevations, the highest is Mt. Bulusan with an altitude of 5,114 feet above sea level. It is an active volcano and the foremost scenic spot of the province. It has become the landmark for travelers that can be seen even from a distance of about 96 kilometers.


The volcano looms over Bulusan lake which is surrounded by a lush forest. The area measuring about 16.43 hectares and is about 2,084 feet above sea level. Replete with various flora, the area is an ideal place for botanical researches. It could be reached on a private vehicle from Irosin which is about forty five minutes away. From the national highway, it is about half an hour walk over a clean trail that winds through the forest. The name of the town is derived from the word “bulus” (to flow). The municipality prides in its Dancalan Beach Resort, Mt. Bulusan and its lake, as well as, Masacrot Hot Spring.


Among the towns of the province, the most fertile is Irosin. Its name is derived from “iros” which means, to cut a portion. Elders allege that it came about as a result of the erosion of riverbanks during the flood season, through which floodwaters “cut through” to form outflows. Paddies greened or yellowed by rice depending on the season are sights to behold from the elevated highway leading to Matnog. It is also famous for its hot springs.


The town of Barcelona, named after the famous city of Spain, is known for its centuries-old church constructed by the Franciscan friars from coral stones, egg whites and “tuba” (coconut liquor). It is reputed to be one of the oldest churches of the Bicol region.


The first Mission of the Agustinians in Sorsogon is Casiguran which they established in 1600, that made it as the center of all “Kabikulan”. The name was derived from “kasi gurang” which was what the locals told the Spaniards when the latter asked why there were no young among the old inhabitants. The townsfolk were actually hiding the young women of the village, every time the Spaniards came, for fear that they would be abused. The Spaniards thought that the “kasi gurang” was what the place was called, so they began referring to it by that name which later, was contracted to “Casiguran”. The town’s natural attraction is Nagsipit Falls.


Gubat used to be a progressive barrio of Bulusan, until it became independent as a municipality. Due to its popularity even during the Hispanic time, it became a favorite settlemet of those coming from the regions of Tagalog, Visayas and the neighboring Albay. The settlement used to be located at Buri which has become Buenavista later on. Its first municipal gobernadorcillo was Don Pedro Manook. The name was derived from “guinobat” which means “raided”, due to the frequency of raids by Muslims from the south. There’s a legend about the town’s having been saved by the Child Jesus in the arms of St. Anthony of Padua who eventually, became its patron saint. Its old church was built from the contributed “talaksan” (coral stones), by the locals. Preparation for the building of the church took ten years, according to the story, and finally started in 1778. A popular beach of Gubat is Rizal, located 5 kilometers from the town center. It is close to the San Bernardino Strait, the reason why surfers frequent it due to its big waves.


Magallanes was known during the Spanish regime as Encomienda de Iguey with two sitios, Parina and Caditaan. The town was established in April 30, 1859 through the effort of a Spanish abaca trader, Don Manuel de Castro, who became the first gobernadorcillo. It became an independent parish in December 11, 1863. According to the local history, the first Christian Mass in Luzon was held in Magallanes, which was formerly referred to as Gibalong. The Ibalon or Tierra de Gibalong that used to be reference of the whole region originated at Magallanes.


Bagatao Island, a part of Magallanes, was considered as the shipyard of the region where galleons were built and repaired, which during the time was called Real Astillero de Bagatao. The island’s name came from two words “bagang tawo”, which means, “looks like a man” because the shape of the island looks like a man floating in the waters. It is located at the mouth of Sorsogon Bay.


Another shipyard, considered to be importance, too, is Panlatuan of Pilar. Remains of kiln-like structures, thick stone walls that resemble those of a fort that point to the settlement as an important shipyard and metal factory at the same time. This is also the birthplace of the province’s nationalistic sentiment against the Spaniards, which caused them to take arms and kill the Spanish shipyard administrator and his four assistants in August 1898. From Panlatuan, the ardent feeling spread throughout the rest of the province.


For the spelunkers, Prieto-Diaz offers Nagsurok Cave, named as such, because one has to practically crawl on all fours to get inside. “Surok” means, to crawl. Legend has it that, the cave was the home of the “mampak bird”, that preyed on the people of Prieto-Diaz, Gubat, Barcelona, Bulusan and Irosin. Another cave is called “Pinanaan” which means, “place where arrows were shot”. It was here where, according to the legend, the “mampak bird” was cornered by the people and eventually killed it with arrows.


The hottest spot in the province today is Donsol because of its marine visitors – the butandings, or whale sharks. Both foreign and local tourists flock to this coastal town just to have a glimpse of the sharks frolicking among the waves. Donsol which also means, “anvil”, has been known for its metal products. Although, the coastal town has been visited by the sharks frequently in the past, it was only in 1997 that the locals came to fully understand the harmlessness of the sea creatures. With the whale shark sightings, the town has become known worldwide among the nature lovers.


The gateway of Luzon to the Visayas and Mindanao regions is Matnog. It is here where ferry transfers are made. Island-hopping is the best activity in Matnog because of its alluring islets, such as Tikling, Calintaan, Juag and Subic. Motorized bancas can be hired at the Matnog Ferry Terminal for visits to these islets. The most intriguing among them is Subic which is girded by fine pinkish sandy beach, just like the Sta. Cruz Island of Zamboanga. It is also fondly referred to as “La Playa Rosa”. On the other hand, Calintaan Islet features an underwater cave.    


Several layers of lava resulting from eruptions in the past, account to the fertility of the province’ soil in general. Added to this is the helpful river system that practically crisscrosses the 2,141 square kilometers area of the province. Of the six principal rivers, longest is Donsol. The Philippine-Japan Friendship Highway is the main commercial artery of the province.


Buses that ply the Philippine-Japan Friendship Highway for Sorsogon towns and cities, as well as, those that go straight to Cagayan de Oro and Davao cities in Mindanao, and some cities and towns in Visayas, can be taken at Manila. The nearest airport to the province is located at Legaspi City.




Masbate: Its Ranches and Gold

Masbate: Its Cattle Ranches and Gold

By Apolinario Villalobos


Three major islands punctuated by rolling grassy hills, white beaches, gold veins and marine life-rich surrounding seas make up this province of brown-skinned cowboys.


Comprising an aggregate area of 4,048 square kilometers, the province with its rolling grasslands found in cattle raising an assured and stable income. Composing the province are the major islands of Masbate, Ticao, and Burias. Masbate as the biggest of the three, is also the eleventh largest island of the Philippines.


Separating Masbate from Panay Island is the Jintotolo Channel and on the south, extending to the Visayas Sea is the Asid Gulf, enclosed by the province’s southern boundary. The northwestern coast of Masbate Island faces the Sibuyan Sea and along its western and southern coasts are coral reefs and islets.


Masbate Island is indented by several bays with Port Barrera and Masbate Bay as the most significant. Its topography on the other hand is characterized by rolling hills bordered by limestone cliffs rising almost perpendicularly from the waterline on the island’s northwestern tip.


The narrow and elongated islands of Ticao and Burias are separated from the capital island by Masbate Pass. The rugged topography of the two islands have a very limited expanse of level land, hence, except for the hardy coconut trees, no other economically gainful plants could seem to thrive.


Fringing the eastern coast of Ticao Island are white beaches in contrast to the western coast’s cliffs of jagged limestone. This is the main reason why the western coast has the concentration of population distributed among the municipalities and villages.


Geographically and historically, Masbate province was part of the Sibuyan Sea island group which included Marinduque, Romblon and other smaller islands. Occupying a transitional position between Luzon and the Visayas, the group of islands historically grew almost at the same phase. In time, however, they were separated for convenient administration.


Even during the time of Legazpi, the Sibuyan Sea island group was already well- known. In fact, in late 16th century, from their base in Cebu, Legazpi and his lieutenants made frequent expeditions along the coasts of these islands. It was also in Masbate shipyards where several galleons were built. Despite all those seemingly healthy relationship with the Spanish base in Cebu, there was only an insignificant economic development that occurred for the advantage of the island group.


The province became a mecca of fortune seekers as the Spanish regime was nearing its end. The cattle industry and the discovery of gold-bearing veins attracted hordes of migrants from nearby provinces. The rolling grasslands of the interior and southeastern part of the province, however, attracted the migrants more than the gold veins underneath the island’s northern tip.


During the American regime, particularly in 1908, a strong typhoon devastated the province which prompted the American Governor to annex Masbate to Sorsogon which reduced it to the status of a sub-province. With the joint effort, however, of the late Governor Jose Zurbito and former Representative Pablo de la Rosa, a bill declaring Masbate as an independent province was passed in February 1922.


Despite the proximity of the province to Bicol Region, the cultural setting, especially, does not provide any special affinity to the latter, except for the islands of Ticao and Burias, as well as, its northernmost tip. The convergence of migrants from other parts of the country resulted in the blending of several linguistic groups that composed the population of the province. It brought about the synthesis of Waray, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Tagalog and Bikol into the Masbateῆo dialect.


Masbate was along the galleon route between Luzon and Visayas, and it was this factor that made the island a veritable shipyard where the Spanish vessels were made and repaired. The boat makers were and are still concentrated at Bantigue, a small protruding land north of the bay. By outriggers, the community is about five minutes from the town. The skill and knowledge of the boatmakers of Bantigue are handed from generation to generation. As in the past, most of them make use of the sands as their “sketch board”. The deft hands of the Bantigue boatmaker could transform a shapeless tree trunk into exquisitely balanced “unayan”. Their know-how is not limited to the building of small fishing boats (pumpboats), as they also excel in the building of “kumpit” (slim pumpboat), “sabid-sabid” (sailboat), and bigger versions such as paraw, casco and basnig.


Masbate’s main industry still remains to be fishing despite the proliferation of cattle ranches. This could be attributed to its proximity to rich fishing grounds such as Asid Gulf, Burias Pass, Sibuyan Sea, Ticao Pass and Guimaras Strait. In addition to the marine catch, the locals have also embarked on shrimp, lobster and crab culture.


The gold of Masbate is of high quality and it helped the economy of the province during the heyday of mining before the WWII. However, after the war, the stagnant gold price and the high cost of re-opening the mines made the investors abandon their stakes. But with the skyrocketing of the gold price lately, the river of Aroroy has again, become alive with panners.

Gold panning in Aroroy is done along the river that flows through Malubi, Luy-a, Balite and Concepcion. Other than gold, Aroroy is also frequented because of its Mata Cave, Napayauan Islet, Cambatang, and Cangcayat Beaches.



The elongated island of Ticao offers visitors its Catandayagan Falls that cascades from a 300 feet height of jagged cliff, and from afar, it looks like a white ribbon. It is located in the western coast of San Jacinto and could be reached on an hour of pumpboat ride from Masbate. Alta Vista Falls can also be visited at San Fernando with its zigzagging cascade. On the eastern coast of Ticao is a long stretch of white beach hollowed by coves. A standout among the beaches is the Talisay which has a natural diving platform, located 13 kilometers, southwest of San Fernando. The waters on this side of the island are calm and from here, the silhouette of the stretch of Bicol peninsula and part of Samar can be discerned.


Other natural attractions of Masbate are: Matangtubig Spring and Cagpating Island at Monreal; Kalanay Falls located at Barangay Nabingig, Palanas; Bat-ongan Caves at Mandaon; Sombrero Island at San Pascual; Ki-Albay, Putting, and San Isidro at Claveria; Veagan Island and Daquit-Daquit Island at Dimasalang; and Tinalisay Islet of Burias.


As for cattle raising, Masbate is among the provinces on the country’s top list for this industry. An interesting by-product of the cattle industry is the “carmelado”, a tasty milk toffee that comes in small bars.


For gourmets, suggested is the local beef steak. The “tapa” is cut into bite strips and soaked in a special concoction of spices. Another local gourmet fare is “tunsoy”, sun-dried salted sardines. As always, the best place to enjoy sea foods while in Masbate is the wet market around which, small “carinderias” serve them at very affordable prices.


Masbate is ideal for island-hopping and snorkeling. Those who wish to visit the province is advised to bring along a lightweight tent and water purifier in tablet form. The airport is located on the island of Masbate which is also accessible on two-hour ferry ride from Bulan, Sorsogon.