Romblon Island is a destination for the unhurried.
No Jollibees, no movie houses, no ATMs. You have to wait for a day or two to go back to Manila. That’s what I found out when I was there in 1998.
When I came back a few months ago, I found out that there are still no Jollibees, no movie houses and no ATMs, and I had to wait for two days to get on a boat going back to Manila. Nothing much has changed.
My first trip was by accident. We were originally taking a boat to Coron, Palawan from Batangas but when we checked out the boat, it was a batel or a boat whose hull is made from wood already loaded with cement bags. We got scared. So we backed out and chose the next available boat. It was going to Romblon.
When we arrived in Romblon, we were pleasantly surprised by what we found there. We saw beautiful fortresses and a church and a belfry dating back to Spanish time. Old ancestral houses, municipal buildings and several Spanish bridges were all well preserved.
Romblon’s relationship with Spain dates to 1569 when conquistador Martin de Goiti arrived on the island. The island was originally inhabited by Negrito from Panay and Mangyan from Mindoro. The name of the island was derived from the word Nagalumyom, which refers to “a chicken in the act of sitting on its eggs.” This later on evolved to Lomlom, then Domblon and then finally to Romblon.
The Spanish Recollects established Catholic missions in 1635, and helped Spanish authorities to establish peace and order on the island. Spanish authorities built massive forts and watchtowers on the island to warn residents from recurring attacks of invaders.
From 1716, the island was under the jurisdiction of Panay Island. In 1849, when Governor-General Narciso Claveria required all Filipinos to change their surnames using Catalogo Alfabetico de Apellidos, the residents of Romblon Island were assigned with surnames beginning with letter M.
In 1853, Romblon became a sub-province with Romblon as its capital. On December 7, 1917, under Republic Act 2724, Romblon officially became a province.
Romblon retained its position as the province’s capital. It now has a population of almost 40,000. Its native language is called Rombloanon or Ini.
How to get there
It takes patience to get to Romblon Island. First, it has no commercial airport. The nearest one is located on Tablas Island, in the town of Alcantara. Cebu Pacific flies four times a week to Alcantara. From Tugdan Airport, take a jeepney or a tricycle to San Agustin. From San Agustin, take a pump boat to Romblon.
Another way to reach the island is to take a bus to Batangas port. From there, take a ferry to Romblon. Both Montenegro and 2GO have regular ferries to Romblon. I prefer the 2GO ferry because it conveniently leaves Batangas at 10 p.m. and arrives the next day in Romblon at 6 a.m.
What to see, what to do
There’s plenty to do around the island. Start at the town center and visit the many Spanish-aera structures. Overlooking Romblon Bay are the two Spanish forts, San Andres and Santiago, built from 1644 to 1673. The San Andres was recently restored with a lovely garden. Look for the friendly resident dog named Sandra as she welcomes visitors to her fortress.
The Saint Joseph’s Cathedral and belfry from 1640 were constructed using coral blocks and red bricks. The old municipal building made from coral limestone also dates back to the Spanish era and still houses government offices and municipal jail. In front of the municipal building is Fuente de Belen, the water fountain erected by Eduardo Asuero in 1864. It used to supply Romblon with fresh water during Spanish time.
Walking around the poblacion, one will pass by several Spanish era bridges and dozens of Spanish-era and American-era houses.
Hire a tricycle to visit some of the island’s natural attractions. There’s Tiamban Beach, which is only 5 kilometers from the town proper. It has a fine white- sand beach and a sand bar that connects to an island during low tide. In barangay Ginablan, there’s the remote Talipasak Beach Resort where one can enjoy swimming and snorkeling in crystal clear waters.
But what is a visit to Romblon without checking the marble quarries and factories? Romblon is probably the Philippines’ biggest marble supplier. They make anything from almires to lapidas to as big as life-sized statues.
Where to stay, what to eat
During my first visit, I stayed in a hotel called, what else, Marble! It is still there. But today, there are a couple of new hotels near the pier. There’s Parc Bay Mansion and Romblon Plaza Hotel. During my last visit, I stayed at a new hotel named Doctora. It has clean and comfortable air-conditioned rooms starting from P1,000 a night.
Those who wish to enjoy Talipasak Beach can travel 13 kilometers south and stay at San Pedro Beach Resort.
For dining, head to Jd&G Italian Food for real Italian pizza. The owner is married to an Italian and they have a nice menu of favorite Italian dishes. There’s also Island Bistro with its fine mixture of Filipino and American dishes. Try their best-selling crispy pork belly and baked macaroni.
But for tasty and inexpensive seafood dishes, visit the local carinderias in front of the pier. The over-abundance of fresh seafood on the island ensures that there’s a steady supply of delicious seafood dishes in these poor man’s restaurants. Sample the fish sinigang, escabeche and guinataan.
They are not only delicious and filling, but make every journey to this remote island always marble-ous.