May has always been the favorite month of most Filipinos. It is the time to come home and to rejoice in summer. It is the time to return to your roots, to join in the celebration of a bountiful harvest and to feast.
The coming of summer is the most anticipated time of the year in the island of Lubang. Summer is the best time to visit this island. It is the time when the sea between Batangas and Lubang is calmer and the crossing is easier. It is the time when most balikbayans return to the island to renew their ties. It is the time when the most anticipated Mayohan is celebrated.
The old saying “so near yet so far” is how most people describe Lubang Island. The island belongs to Occidental Mindoro. It is only located 150 kilometers southwest of Manila. It is probably 10 times the size of Boracay but has less population. It is also considered an island paradise with many hidden natural attractions. There are actually seven islands in the Lubang Group of Islands. Two municipalities are located in Lubang: Lubang and Looc. Lubang town on the east has the larger settlement as compared to Looc. The port of Tilik serves as entry point to both municipalities.
Lubang was named after “lumbang,” a tree variety that grew prominently during the early days. When Captain Juan de Salcedo visited the island in 1570, he saw a progressive settlement of natives. Chinese merchants were already doing trade with the island and may have taught the natives to build a stone fort. The male inhabitants tried to protect themselves against the Spanish forces but because of the superior weapons of the invaders, they surrendered after hours of fighting. The same year, Lubang was place under the jurisdiction of Spain.
The island’s strategic location on the entrance of Manila Bay played a vital role throughout history. And so did its remoteness. The island has been tossed and turned for centuries. In 1574, Lubang, together with Mindoro and Batangas was part of the Corregimiento de Bonbon, the old name of Batangas. A few years later, it was separated and made part of Cavite. In 1902, when Mindoro was made sub-province of Marinduque, Lubang was separated from Cavite and was made as a part of Marinduque. However, because of geographic distance, Lubang was again separated from Marinduque a few months later and was placed under Mindoro, a free but not a regular province. By 1905, Lubang was created as a municipality with Tilik as the commercial center. By 1916, Looc was separated from Lubang with Agkawayan as the center. When the province of Occidental Mindoro was created under Republic Act No. 505 on June 13, 1950, it included the two municipalities in Lubang Island. Despite being placed under the provincial capital in Mamburao, the access to the island is still easier via Batangas.
In March 1974, 29 years after the end of World War II, the small island of Lubang made international headlines when Hiroo Onoda, the last of the Japanese soldiers in the Philippines, finally surrendered.
How to get there
A few years back, the only access to Lubang was via a slow wooden hulled motorized boat that sails for six to eight hours from Manila to Tilik. The wooden “batels” are now gone and has been replaced by faster sea vessels that sail from either Calatagan or Nasugbu.
Nasugbu or Calatagan is about two hours from Manila either by bus or private vehicle. Most public transports leave Pasay, Buendia (Makati City) or Cubao (Quezon City) and pass Cavitex, Aguinaldo Highway and Tagaytay (Cavite) before going to either Nasugbu or Calatagan (both in Batangas). Those taking a private vehicle can do the Ternate-Nasugbu road via Kaybiang Tunnel. In the ports of Nasugbu and Calatagan, there is available parking for private vehicles at P100 per day.
Our Lady of Grace fastcraft leaves Nasugbu everyday for Tilik at 7:30 a.m. Travel time is one hour and 35 minutes and fare is P400 per person. There are also several slower boats that take off from either Calatagan or Nasugbu bound for either Tilik or Agkawan taking two hours to reach Lubang.
Lubang also has an airport. It is, however, currently used by Airlink to train student pilots.
What to see, what to do
Every May, the people of Lubang celebrate the Mayohan Festival. This month-long celebration is basically a gathering of friends and families, of balikbayans going back to the island, and of prayers and thanksgivings. Thanksgiving masses are held everyday and by nightfall, public plazas and basketball courts host public dances. There are also Santacruzans, a May-flower parade of beauties in honor of the Reyna Elena or Helena of Constantinople in search of the Holy Cross, held in each barangay in every night of May.
Besides Mayohan, visitors can also do the Onoda Historical Trail. A local guide is necessary to hike to the trail leading to the four caves where the Japanese straggler Hiroo Onoda stayed for 30 years.
In the island of Cabra, visitors can visit the old Spanish lighthouse, as well as the sight of the 1966 apparition of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception.
Lubang also has so many hidden natural attractions such as the rock formations in Binakas, the hidden beach and waterfalls in Hulagaan and the empty beaches of Tagbac and Cono.
But the island’s best attractions are its rustic simplicity and the hospitality of its people that makes every month as warm as summer’s May.
Where to stay, what to eat
The growing tourist arrival in Lubang has opened the doors for more places to stay in the island. In Tilik, there’s the Lubang Bay Hotel right next to the port. In Tagbac, visitors can check in at Protacio Beach Resort, Punong-Bato Hidden Resort or Bamboo Hut Resort. In Poblacion, lodging is available at Michelle’s Lodging House or at Airlink Beach Resort.
The best place to stay in Lubang, however, is with friends who have houses there, especially during the Mayohan festival. In here, a visitor become not a spectator but a participant to the wonderful celebration in the island. This also gives a visitor a chance to sample the local favorites: ripe mangoes, local suman and roasted kasoy. No Mayohan is complete without trying them. And no visitor should leave Lubang without tasting them.