Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Mustachio and the Sea of Stories

Bungoton and the Dinagat Stories

Dina Gat

Once upon a time, two royal bloods, Prinsesa Dina and Prinsepe Gat, whose tribes were at war with each other, believed in the saying "make love, not war." They eloped and ran (or maybe swam) away to an island in the Pacific. But when their peaceful island life was shattered by invaders, they swam away, never to be heard from again. Their disappearance coincided with the appearance of land formations, one shaped like a sleeping pregnant woman, the other shaped like a sleeping man. The woman-shaped mountain was aptly called Babaeng Bukid (female mountain), believed to be Prinsesa Dina; and the man-shaped island was called Lalaking Bukid (male mountain), believed to be Prinsepe Gat.

Top photo: Prinsepe Gat or Unib Island
Bottom photo: Prinsesa Dina or Mount Palhe (on the background)

Dinagat Islands

Babaeng Bukid (on the main island of Dinagat), Lalaking Bukid (Unib Island), and the islands in between, collectively called Dinagat Islands, were once under the jurisdiction of the province of Surigao del Norte. In 2006, these group of islands was declared a new province. Three years later, some people petitioned for that declaration to be nullified and the Supreme Court of the Philippines granted the petition. And then a little over a year after the nullification, the Supreme Court nullified the nullification—in less confusing words, dismissed the petition and decided that, yes, Dinagat Islands should be a province after all. And so I write corrected: Dinagat Islands was twice under the jurisdiction of the province of Surigao del Norte.

Islander's Castle
San Jose

At present, the province of Dinagat Islands is ruled by a queen keeping watch over all her people from her lofty castle. Just kidding. There's no queen. Dinagat Islands is ruled by Governor Glenda Ecleo, and that huge castle sitting magnificently on top of the hill is her mansion.

Stingray Islet
San Jose

The queen governor chose a spot for her castle well. It affords a sweeping view of her kingdom, including Lalaking Bukid (Unib Island) and an islet called Stingray Islet. I wanted to think that it was named Stingray Islet because there were a lot of stingrays in the waters surrounding it, but no, it was because it was shaped like a stingray. Bummer.

Stingray Islet, Lalaking Bukid, and Sibanac Island as seen from Islander's Castle

PBMA Shrine
San Jose

Seventy percent of the queen's subjects (aka citizens of Dinagat Islands) are members of the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA) whose founder was the king himself: Ruben Edera Ecleo Sr. This organization remains a mystery to me as our guide, being a member, wouldn't share much about the organization. If you want to know more about them, you have to join them, he said. (But don't jump the gun, read this and this first.) What our guide did share was that the PBMA Shrine was built by volunteers after the death of their founder in 1987.

Note: Visitors can enter the PBMA Shrine but must follow a dress code. Females must wear a skirt on or below the knee and a white shirt without any print except for approved PBMA prints. Males must wear pants and a white tee or polo shirt without any print except for approved PBMA prints. Cameras and mobile phones with cameras are not allowed inside; these are to be deposited at the gate.

PBMA Shrine
Photo from wikipedia

Bababu Lake

Foreigner: What's the name of this place?
Local: Baba sa Buaya.
Foreigner's tongue all atangle: Bababu?

Baba sa buaya. Visayan for croc's mouth. A croc's mouth that has eaten many a everyone's nightmare. Thankfully, it's just that—a  nightmare. There are no crocodiles at the beach nor in the lake. Baba sa buaya only refers to the shape of the cove where Bababu Beach is located. Bababu Beach is where the trail to the lake starts. It takes about 45 minutes to reach the lake; an hour for those who have been sitting on their butt for too long. 

The lake is connected to the sea via a 650-meter underwater tunnel. When the tide is high, the water in the lake rises too, but the saltwater and the fresh water don't mix. The locals believe the waters of Bababu Lake has healing powers. Young and old make the hike up to the lake to bathe, to drink, to collect bottles of lake water.

I made the hike up to the lake to bathe pee. Just kidding. Or am I? *Evil laugh*

Bababu Beach

Bababu Lake

Sundayo Beach
Hagakgak Island, Basilisa

You know how, in the Surigaonon dialect, the letter L is turned into Y? Sundalo to sundayo? Story goes that a sundalo/sundayo (soldier) got stranded on this island and made like Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away. I lie. This beach was named Sundayo Beach for the very simple reason that the house on this beach is owned by a soldier.

Cabacongan Beach
Unib Island (Lalaking Bukid), Basilisa

Cabacongan Beach, also known as Kalaw Sanctuary, is on the backside of Lalaking Bukid, where one can see Prinsepe Gat's butt and his precious jewels. His butt is home of the kalaws (hornbills). We did not see any hornbill though, just Prinsepe Gat's butt hole.

Prinsepe Gat's got a big butt

Bitaog Beach
Unib Island (Lalaking Bukid), Basilisa

How do you name a beach? By its most distinctive feature? Yes? Then you must be on the same brain frequency as the people who named Bitaog Beach. This beach was named such because of the huge Bitaog tree on the beach. Now there is no Bitaog Tree, just Bitaog Beach and its fine white sands and clear waters.

Pangabangan Tidal Pool
Pangabangan Island, Libjo

A huge meteor zoomed and crashed into this part of Dinagat Islands, thus forming this huge chasm. Or so the unwritten legend says. But, really, it's just a tidal pool. A beautiful, inviting, deep, aquamarine tidal pool.

Punta Buena Suerte Resort

Punta Buena Suerta where they're lucky to have a beautiful underwater universe perfect for snorkeling. Where our boatman was lucky to have seen a pawikan (sea turtle) as we were preparing to dock. Where I was lucky to have seen a lionfish through the crystal clear water as we were preparing to disembark. But that's where our luck ended. We did not get to explore this underwater world because we became too comfortable sitting under the shade of a tree while exchanging stories with our guide.

Who to Contact for More Information
To know more about this young province and its many islands or to arrange your trip around Dinagat Islands, contact any of Dinagat Islands' Tourism Liaison Officers:
  • Mark Casiano Acain 0908 472 3676
  • Connie Marzan Macalua 0921 840 9123
  • Ezequiel Divinagracia NimeƱo 0929 558 1242

How to Go to San Jose, Dinagat Islands
San Jose is the capital of the province of Dinagat Islands. There are daily boat trips to San Jose leaving from the boulevard of Surigao City. The boat trip takes about an hour and 10 minutes, and costs Php 100 per person.

Where to Stay in Dinagat Islands
We stayed in Bahay Turista Mini Chalet, which also houses the province's tourism office. An air conditioned room for two costs Php 600; extra head for Php 100. The room is quite big and can accommodate four persons. Towels, soap, and toilet paper are provided.

How Much to Prepare for Island Hopping
An outrigger boat for island hopping would cost Php 3500 and above, and would depend on the size of the outrigger and the destinations. Outriggers can be arranged through the Tourism Office.


  1. Amazing place! Putting Dinagat Islands in our bucket list. :)

    1. Hi Team Sweetie! Kuyog ko! Hehe. Daghan pa kaayo isla didto and 1 day of island hopping could only cover the above islands I mentioned...

  2. We're going here next year! Actually we're not but since we'll be in Surigao I'll convince my friends to go to Dinagat Islands as well. :)

  3. .. this article is written so damn good. Wanna know who wrote this. It's amazing . I laugh and was amaze by the way you wrote this article. I'm from dinagat by the way

  4. Add me on facebook writer.. Catherine Tomines

  5. dear writer, It has been 8 years from the time you wrote this blog. alot has changed since then. the province now has paved roads in order to reach spots unreachable by the past. new sites are discovered that are unbeknownst even to locals. indeed the province has changed, so if by chance you want to come and visit again, hit me up in instagram, @shacquilleoneal. cause if ever u replied to this comment i am afraid I wont be able to see for the matter that i just stumbled upon this site while on my 2000-2400hr duty here on engine room feeling nostalgic of my hometown :(

    best regards