Sibuyan Island

Sibuyan Island

 

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Sibuyan island, in the East of the Philippines‘ Romblon province, is notable for one of the densest and most bio-diverse rain-forests in the world, with hundreds of uncatalogued endemic species of birds, mammals, reptiles and plants. There is also an indigenous people, the Sibuyan Mangyan Tagabukid, living in isolated villages in the jungle interior.

Sibuyan’s Mount Guiting Guiting is considered to be one of the Philippines‘ most difficult peaks to climb so unless you are very experienced it probably should not be attempted without the aid of a professional agency and guide from Manila.

Visiting indigenous villages is also difficult individually as they are hidden away in the roadless interior and somewhat wary of outsiders. This is not to say they are not friendly – on the contrary, they are extremely welcoming if you arrive with someone they trust.

A good guy for this is Demet Romion from Cajidiocan, known to all locals as Manung Demet. He works for PANLIPI, a Filipino NGO that tries to protect the rights of indigenous people in a country where what few rights they have are ignored and abused on a daily basis. Most locals in Cajidiocan will know him, as does Vicky, the owner of Vicky’s guest house in Magdwang.

The status of the Sibuyan Mangyan Tagabukid as indigenous people separate from the coastal dwellers is debated.

Demet Romion is adamant that they are a distinct people and he remembers visiting their villages as a child at a time when they still wore loincloths. Certainly many of the stories I heard of interaction between coastal and jungle dwellers are typical of the exploitation of tribal people by “civilised” people in third world countries.

You can get an overnight boat to Sibuyan from Batangas, the port a couple of hours south of Manila.

Sometimes they go straight to Sibuyan, sometimes via the other islands in Romblon Province (Tablas and Romblon).

There are also pump boats here from Masbate further to the east. From Roxas on Mindoro pump boats go to Odiongan on Tablas Island, from where you can get a jeepney to San Agustin followed by a ferry to Sibuyan.

Boats from Romblon Province or Manila arrive on Sibuyan at Magdwang, whereas boats from Masbate arrive at Cajidiocan. In both places there are a couple of guest houses that any local can show you the way to and always have free rooms. Jeepneys link the two towns and even if you miss one a taxi shouldn't be too expensive.