Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Returning to Puerto Princessa we did end up meeting up with Flager's college friend Jinna. She showed us around the city, taking us to the waterfront area where they have a nice boardwalk and square with the biggest Christmas tree in the Philippines. We stopped by the cathedral (every city has a nice one it seems) and then hung out at the cafe for the ladies to catch up while I contemplated where I was.
I found it rather ironic that Palawan advertises itself as the "Last Frontier" of the Philippines and yet seems to be quickly catching up to the rest of the country, if indeed it was ever behind. I guess it depends what yardstick you want to use. To me, the last frontier would be somewhere without modern conveniences and somewhere unpenetrated by foreign tourists in large quantities. I suppose if you were coming from Thailand then it holds true. For the typical tourist in the Philippines, who might visit Manila, Boracay, Bohol, Donsol and the rice terraces up north if they had enough time, Palawan might seem undeveloped and relaxed. The countryside is not overly developed which is a change in the Philippines as this country is rapidly approaching a population of 100 million and they have to put them somewhere.... The majority of tourists are still Filipino in Palawan and when I say there were foreigners there, we're talking a handful here and there, nothing obscene.
But, if you look at it from my perspective, being based in Iloilo, it wasn't the last frontier at all. Iloilo is one of the oldest cities in the Philippines as it was built by the Spanish as one of their first settlements and was the last city held before they finally got kicked out (by the Americans). Iloilo's population is about 400,000 and has plenty of ageing buildings and not a single working traffic light! Puerto Princessa's population is a little over 100,000, it looks newer and a lot cleaner, and has 3 traffic lights! So which sounds like a frontier now? Can you go to the "Last Frontier" and upgrade your traffic lights? Not by my definition.
If you still aren't convinced, how about another. Palawan, lots of tourists. Iloilo, lots of Koreans. If I go out to the mall or some other part of the city, I am surprised when I see another Westerner. There are very few in Iloilo at all and 99% of them are males over the age of 50 and with Filipino families, (or at least a lot younger wife and usually one small child). Probably not good for all the children of these mixed families to grow up most of their lives without a father because the men are so old... Thus I am constantly joking that I am the only white guy under 50 in Iloilo and am practically a celebrity. When locals ask me what I'm doing here and I say teaching Koreans they all, without fail, immediately roll their eyes and say "oh, Koreans". Koreans are the biggest foreign group (I swear the only one in Iloilo) and are tolerated but looked down on as strange. Kind of funny because the Koreans see the Filipinos the same way. But they don't have any major problems. I think the biggest difference between the two, apart from their English ability, is that the Koreans come across as 1000 times more serious, less adventurous and less friendly and welcoming to strangers. But then I love the Filipinos so everyone else is going to suffer by comparison. Even the prisoners here are friendly, haha ;) So I got a little sidetracked, but does seeing more tourists and foreigners count as the "Last Frontier" to you? In the end I concluded that while Palawan is cool and there is obviously stuff to see, it is only the last frontier for visitors here with a limited itinerary and still wanting tourist infrastructure. I've been to much more frontiery areas already like Caramoan and Antique, and I'm sure there are tons more all over the country just waiting to be explored...
But speaking of prisoners, we ended up sleeping at Jinna's parents house a little outside the city at a place called Iwahig. Now this was something truly special and another first for me (which is why I should never stop travelling). I'd only heard about Iwahig 2 weeks before when I was with Nikki in the Iloilo jail. Iwahig is actually an open prison. It's so radical I can't even properly describe it. It's a large area of land (I heard something like 60,000 hectares) that acts as a penal colony. There are just over 2000 prisoners, most of whom are convicted murderers, and yet the majority live minimum security lives on the grounds doing agricultural work. The convicts are divided into 3 groups, maximum, medium and minimum security. The max security guys are not allowed out of their specific area (which looks like a proper jail) and wear orange shirts. The medium security guys, wear blue shirts, go out during the day but are locked up at night and the minimum security prisoners have a lot of freedom. They wear brown shirts and live largely unsupervised. Some have permission to live with their families in their own little community area.
Why was I there? Well, Jinna's parents work there, and some staff have houses there. The is something of a little village community with these staff houses and prisoners running around. The crazy thing is that there is a prisoner, convicted murderer, living at the back of their house and he does the washing and gardening etc for them... The community has an old recreation centre, a church, a shop, even an elementary school! We drove around a little to take a quick look. Just too strange though, but then the really shocking thing was finding out that it's been around for 100 years and was originally started by the Americans! Seems far too progressive and lenient a prison system for them... Just goes to show, there's more than one way to rehabilitate someone. So many different systems around the world. I love it.
Then it was back to Puerto for the flight home to Iloilo to start work again. The good news is that festival season is starting here soon, so I will have something more to do and write about in the near future so stay tuned.
I have also finished uploading the newest photos.


At 1:36 PM , Blogger Helen Sophia Chua Balderama said...

thanks ammon for sharing about iwahig. come to think of it, i haven't heard of it. nikki, why?

At 11:49 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Ammon,
Interesting points about "the last frontier", I think it is an Americanism that gets tossed about all the time, mostly when selling something. Like you in my travels here, I have been to a few 'last frontiers', only to find them more crowded that the small town I stopped for lunch in. I miss motorcycling, it is such a great way to see everything, and get around.... at least until some geriatric runs you over.
I gotta run, but thanks for the blog!!!

Big Bear Hugs and Love
The Bear

At 2:58 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Ammon, I can't believe you've been on the road for almost half a decade...!! :D

write a book.. go on!! :D

hope ur well!


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