I have been looking forward to see for myself the fortress-church of Agutaya ever since I learned about it while I was in Cuyo. In no time, I’ve set out to go to this place even if the trip was rather scary. Come to think of it, these very remote islands harbor architectural gems that is historically and culturally significant. A monument to the struggles and determination to defend these people from the scourge of slave raiders and pirates.
I have seen photos of the fortress-church of Cuyo in books but the first time I saw it, cara y cara, and I was struck speechless. The photos don’t give you an idea of size and immensity unless you have a reference like a person within the image to provide scale. But looking at it, wow, its surreal. This was what I have come for in this remote island and its hard to imagine that in such a place, a very solid, massive and impressive structure was built here.
Culion, for a time was nicknamed, unfortunately, The Island of the Living Dead. Not that creatures of the underworld roamed the streets at night or scared its inhabitants but it was an act of government that made it compulsory for lepers in the country, from Luzon to Mindanao, to be segregated into this forlorn of places. Leprosy is an ancient scourge and before the medical breakthroughs in the later part of the 20th century, there were no known cures. Sufferers were treated like pariahs and left deformed for life.
This is the second time that I’ve been to this old settlement that was originally inhabited by the Tagbanuas. During the 17th century, the Augustinian Recollects arrived and evangelized here and in the mid-18th century, this was part of an important network of a defensive system against Muslim piratical raids. In 1906, the island was established as a leper colony. One unique trait of the island is its very heterogeneous population that can be attributed to the forced segregation policy of the country during the American period where lepers from all parts of the country were put.
One of the best things to see here in Coron is the approach to the island while passing through the spectacular karst limestone cliffs that comprise the islands of the Calamianes group of North Palawan. And the best time is early in the morning as the sun is still a few degrees from the horizon. Its golden rays striking the greenery and yellow to gray walls of rock. Only a boat ride can give you this pleasure.