TWO DAYS IN BASILAN
Basilan has been notorious for bombings, kidnappings and insurgencies. Because of this reputation, tourists are advised to keep away from this province as their travel destination. Almost two years ago, I received an invite to visit Basilan. I didn’t think twice, I said yes right away. The feeling is more of an excitement than fear because that might be my only chance to visit this island province. I kept it as a secret from my family and friends because I don’t want them to worry.
We reached Basilan via fast craft from Zamboanga Pier. I can’t describe the feeling during the 1 hour and 20 minutes trip because of the military escort inside the vessel. My friend told me that it was normal; the ferry company wants to make sure that their passengers are safe and secure. I put music in my ears to relax myself and eliminate the noise of the vessel’s engine.
Our hosts were already waiting for us when we arrived at the Basilan Pier. I can feel that all eyes of are on us when alighted the fast craft, a surprise look that there are new faces in their place. I wanted to take pictures but I that will make me an obvious tourist.
After a little rest in their house, we went to the White Beach Malamawi Island. The island is 10 minutes away by boat from Isabela but the beach is on the other side. The rented pick up that will bring us to the beach where already there when we got there, we hopped at the back and was surprised when 2 military personnel joined us. I didn’t ask further question because I already know the answer.
The trail was a forest dominated by coconut trees. After an hour of bumpy ride, we reached the Malamawi White Beach. I never been to a beach where to there is no other visitors except us. It was like a private beach exclusively for us. I didn’t swim but I enjoyed walking through the undeniably clean turquoise sea water along the shore which is made of powdery sand. The ambiance was very relaxing that it was hard for me to refuse napping in one of the benches underneath a tree. We also went to the highest point of the island. The 360 degrees view above boasted a superb sight of nearby stilt village.
Our 2nd day in Basilan was more of a country side and city tour. No military escorts this time but we were accompanied by the host’s family friend who is an ex-military officer. I already lost count on how many military checkpoints and camps we encountered along the way.
We went to Lamitan where the Lamitan Siege happened. We visited the Jose Maria Torres Memorial Hospital and the adjacent St. Peter the Apostle who were the mute witnesses of the real incident.
We also made a stop-over at rubber plantation in Baluno. Rubber is the main product of Isabela. This industry provides the people of Basilan income that will support them in everyday living. The trees nicely line-up and their wide branches sheltered us from the heat of the sun.
We also got the chance to get inside Sta. Isabel Cathedral. It was guarded by military and police outside because this church is the main target of terrorists. I remembered being approached by a man who is in 60’s and was asked for a reason why I am taking a photo of their church. I replied that I am a tourist and the photo is for souvenir purposes only. He explained that they’re protecting the Cathedral because of the frequent bombings. Sad to say that this cathedral is the most bombed church in the Philippines.
We consumed the last remaining time of the day in Plaza Rizal and Downtown Plaza by watching the vehicles passed by and little chat with the duty policemen and military men.
Even though I didn’t take much photos on this trip because of the security, my actual experience during my 2 days stay in Basilan is very memorable and cannot be replaced by any photograph.