Today is






Sinulog, Dinagyang, Panagbenga, Kadayawan, Masskara. If you're familiar with Filipino festivals, placing these names should be a breeze. They're held in Cebu, Iloilo, Baguio, Davao, Bacolod, respectively, of course.

Ever heard of Palawod? Probably not, but its venue should ring a bell: Bantayan. For years, regarded as one of Cebu's best-kept secrets, the island is gradually finding its place among the Pacific world-famous destinations like Boracay.

Located just off the northern coast of the main island of Cebu, Bantayan has long lured adventurous sun and sea lovers to its beaches, with their fine, white sand and clear, shallow waters stretching as far as one kilometer, making them ideal for swimming and snorkeling. There are also lagoons and caves to explore.

The island's tropical waters are rich in marine resources. The three towns comprising it - Sta. Fe, Madridejos and Bantayan - are fringed with reefs and shoals, and are important fishing centers supplying the Cebu metropolis.

The island of Bantayan is also the "egg basket of the Visayas," producing a daily average of more than 100 tons of eggs, which are distributed to the whole region.

But fishing is the main industry, and it is this that inspired Palawod, a festival celebrating the island's marine bounty. The word palawod means to go farther out to sea, (magpalaot in Tagalog), where fishermen go for the big haul. The festival takes place in Bantayan, the largest of the three towns and the center of trade, arts and culture. The date coincides with the feast of the town's patron saints, Peter and Paul, Christ's foremost fishers of men.

A modern road network makes travel around the barangays spread out over the one-square-mile island more convenient. A one-kilometer airport can also accommodate more flights to and from Cebu City. The flight takes only about 20 minutes. By land, it takes two to three hours to get to the port of Hagnaya on the northern tip of the island, from where one can take an hour-long ferry ride or 30 minute fastcraft to Sta. Fe town, the island's port of entry.

Complementing these improvements, cellphone ommunications has fired up its cellsite in Bantayan town, connecting the entire island to the rest of the world. It has also activated its cellsites in neighboring Daanbantayan Island, boosting coverage for northern Cebu all the way up to the northernmost island of Malapascua.

The fortifications were built around the church and the convent where the parish of Bantayan was founded in 1580, the oldest Catholic parish in the Visayas and Mindanao. The church was the first to be built by the Spaniards outside Cebu and is, therefore, one of the oldest churches in the Philippines. It is the focal point of Lenten rites, primarily the procession of life-size religious images and icons, many of which date back to the 1800s.

In an interesting aside, Bantayan is probably the only place in the Catholic world where people are not obliged to observe abstinence on Good Friday. Two reasons are given to explain this. One is the special permission granted by the Catholic Church in recognition of the traditional practice of fishermen to refrain from fishing on Good Friday in order to participate in the day's rites. The only alternative to fishermen's catch is meat.
The other reason is the extraordinarily high consumption of fish and seafood, the town's specialties, during the Holy Week as a result of a heavy influx of tourists. All that's left for the hosts is meat.

  Among Bantayan's town's precious treasures is many life sixe carrozas,a procession on HolyThursday and Good Friday which depict the passion of Christ. It draws crowd all over the nation. The occasion is aso a yearly get-together of the warm and closely-knit family of those whose roots can be traced to this island of Bantayan.
The Fourth Generation of the Mabugat clan who find their home now in different parts of the world pose in front of the family's "CARRO" the life size image of Christ known to have orignated fromBarcelona, Spain in the 18th century.  

Mostly tourists, Europeans and Japanese come for the beaches, "the closest you can get to paradise," according to one regular visitor. A Cebu travel magazine is more specific: "There is much to discover along the 17.5 kilometers of flat stretches of white powdery sand and 22.3 kilometers of rocky cliffs and promontories that open up to a vista of tranquil blue waters and distant mysterious islets."

Bantayan is, indeed, the island to watch. (Source: PACIFIC HEADLINE NEWS ONLINE)