Rediscover the Philippines
Through Scuba Diving
By Apolinario Villalobos
The Philippine archipelago that comprises more than seven thousand islands and islets, is something to behold from air – islands fringed with white beaches, rolling hills, mountains capped with green, with some hills and valleys showing patches of green and brown , strewn between the Pacific Ocean and China Sea. During the 80’s, the joint effort of the national government and the private sector comprised of Philippine Airlines, scuba diving outfits and travel agencies, resulted to the creation of the Philippine Commission on Sports Scuba Diving, with the Special Committee for the Development and Promotion of Underwater Diving Tourism as its action arm. From the end of Philippine Airlines, the representative was its Tours and Promotions Division, with its personnel, Edgar Buensuceso, Julio Luz and Thelma Villaseῆor. That was the outlook of dive tourism when the industry was yet, kicking high.
Today, with or without joint effort between the government and private sector, the country deserves to be re-discovered because of the vast paradise that covers its ocean floor. With some 34,000 square kilometers of coral reef, the Philippines could well be dubbed as the scuba diver’s haven. From the northern islands down to the atolls of the south, what the country brags virtually make it the ultimate destination for this aquatic sport. The geography of the country may make one’s movement seemed hampered. But who cares if at the end of a grueling cruise or a combined air and land travel a submarine paradise beckons?
If one may start with the northern islands, there’s Fuga to try. It is a part of the northernmost province – Batanes. Then going down to Pangasinan, there’s Santiago Island off Bolinao. On the eastern cost of northern Luzon are Polilio Islands of Quezon Province. All these are accessible via land transport, except for Fuga, going to which would need a chartered plane.
South of Manila are dive sites which are accessible via Batangas City. The veritable subaquatic gardens of Nasugbu, Balayan Bay, Verde Island, Anilao coast, and Sigayan Bay, practically fringe the coast of Batangas province.
Mindoro, an island of two provinces south of Batangas, also has colorfully-alive marine parks to offer. These areas are those around Lubang Islands, Apo Reef and Semirara, all on the western side of Mindoro. On the eastern side are the equally colorful coral beds of Puerto Galera and Buyallo.
Marinduque, the “Moriones Island”, has Tres Reyes and Mompog to offer. The island province is accessible by air and combined land and water transport, either through Lucena City or Gasan.
The surrounding waters of Visayas region are replete with motley colonies of corals inhabited by pelagic fishes. Romblon, for instance, has Dos Hermanas and Cresta de Gallo; Antique and Aklan with their Batbatan and Boracay. Cresta de Gallo and Sicogon Islands of Iloilo, also have memorable dive experience to offer, and there’s yet, Nagas Island to complete this old province’s list of dive spots.
A marine sanctuary, Sumilon Island, is easily reached from Dumaguete City, although, it is geographically part of Cebu. The sanctuary is being maintained by the Silliman University. Another island which is frequented by divers in this part of the country is Apo which is also just a short distance from Dumaguete.
Cebu, the country’s seat of Christianity prides in its dive sites that attract hordes of divers throughout the year, except for Capitancillo, an islet which is at its best from April to October. From Mactan Island in the north to Pescador Island in the southwest and the Danajon Banks, there seemed to be not just enough time for exploration. A popular snorkeling and diving destination among shoestring-budget tourists in this island is Moalboal which is noted for its laid back atmosphere.
From Cebu, Bohol is just a few hours on a ferry. This Chocolate Hills-famed island-province has added two of its islets, Cabilao and Panglao to the already long list of destinations which divers have been frequenting. Both are resplendent with colorful marine life throughout the year. Aside from the ferries from Cebu, the island-province is also accessible from Manila on regular daily flights.
The diagonally-lying island of Palawan is gifted by Nature with atolls and islets, some of which are not yet thoroughly explored. These are the Calamianes Island, Cuyo Islands, Cagayan Islands, Green Island Bay, Bacuit Bay, Ulugan Bay, Honda Bay, Balabac Island, Taytay Bay, and Tubbataha Reef. Down south in Mindanao, divers will delight in Davao’s Talikud Island, Zamboanga’s Sta. Cruz Island and the island sanctuary of Camiguin.
Most of the dive sites in the Philippines are yet in their unspoiled stage, thanks to their almost impossible accessibility. The rest, however, are frequently visited, so that concerned local governments have already started to impose strict regulations.
Interested parties are advised to make advance arrangement with dive shops if they intend to visit islands and reefs so that necessary coordination and clearances can be made with concerned government agencies. Dive packages are also offered by some tour agencies. Some resorts, however, such as those in Anilao (Batangas), Boracay, and Puerto Galera, offer on- the- spot arrangements. Seaside hotels Cebu can assist visitors with their dive requirements.
With tourism as among the last resort revenue earning industries of the Philippines, much effort is exerted by both the national government through the Department of Tourism and the different concerned private sectors in regulating it along the line of ecology.