A famous local folklore tells us the story of star-crossed lovers Marin and Duke (Mariin and Garduque in other versions).  Beautiful and of noble birth, Princess Marin had many suitors, including three datus (royal leaders) of three neighboring lands—Camarines, Mindoro, and Laguna.  However, Marin’s heart belonged to a humble fisherman-poet named Duke.  Despite her father’s absolute disapproval, Marin continued to meet with Duke in secret until she decided to escape the royal life she was born into and ultimately follow her heart.  One night, they rode a boat to flee towards Tayabas Bay, unfortunately, Datu Batumbakal (Marin’s father) found out about their plan and rushed towards them along with three of Marin’s persistent suitors. 

When they thought they would be caught, Marin and Duke decided to hurl themselves onto the dark waters where their bodies sank into the depths of the ocean.  Years passed and to the people’s surprise, a heart-shaped land emerged from the spot where the ill-fated lovers were said to have sunk.  They named it Marinduque.

“There are many stories about the origin of Marinduque,” said Dindo Asuncion, the Provincial Tourism Officer of Marinduque.  “But the story of Marin and Duke is the most popular one.”

Stories change, interpretations vary, but the characters remain the same.  Whether or not Marinduque did spring forth from the longing souls of the Filipinos’ very own Romeo and Juliet, the province of Marinduque truly is the “Heart of the Philippines” from where amazing things stem from.  Balikbayan Magazine tells you why.


The Geodetic Center of the Philippines

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of standing right in the middle of something.  In this case, we actually found ourselves in the very center of the country.

 At the summit of a snake-infested “Mataas na Bundok” in Mogpog, Marinduque lies the Luzon Datum of 1911, which is the focal point of reference of all surveys in the Philippines.  The position of the Luzon Datum of 1911 has been identified by the Datum Station Balacanan positioned 13°33’41”N, 121°52’3”E.   According to a document dated July 31, 2007 from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), this triangulation marks not only the center of Marinduque but also the entire country.

Marking the station is the center of a hole (1.5 centimeters in diameter, 6 centimeters deep) drilled into a diorite rock, which has been there for a hundred years.  The hole rests in the middle of a perfect triangle (16 centimeters on each side) carved into the rock.   Another reference marker boulder is located 10 feet away.  This geodetic datum traces its origin to the mapping activities of the former United States Coast and Geodetic Survey (USCGS) way back in 1906.  Last August 9, 2011, the Luzon-Datum Origin National Landmark was officially made public at the fishing village of Hinanggayon, Mogpog, Marinduque.




Every destination has its own tradition in welcoming guests.  Most of them involve a small gathering, a short presentation of a folk dance or two, or song numbers by local celebrities, and of course, a long table filled with food. Our welcome experience in Marinduque was quite different—unique, to be exact.

After our town tour around Boac, the Balikbayan Magazine team arrived at the Marinduque Capitol Building for our meeting with Governor Carmencita O. Reyes.  From outside, we could see four chairs lined up perfectly at the foot of their grand staircase.  Naturally, we wondered what they were for.  The moment we stepped into the capitol building, a group of barong-clad men and women in their traditional kimona andsaya started to sing to the music being played by the live band.  They led the four of us to the chairs lined at the bottom of the grand staircase as everyone in the capitol started to converge at the lobby to watch what is traditionally called the “putong” ritual.

The music was beautiful, the performance was terrific, and the welcome, well, it was unlike anything we’ve ever experienced during an out-of-town coverage.  The “crowns” they placed on our heads were made of rattan coil and flowers, the scepter was a long, leafy stalk of an indoor plant, and the short waltz with the putong singers was surreal as we danced among the strewn pieces of Santan flowers that they showered us with a few minutes ago.  They also showered us with coins, some of which landed on our heads, which we merrily picked up as we were told they were for good luck, good health, and prosperity.

While different towns in Marinduque have their own versions of putong, this tradition can only be found in Marinduque and dates back to a hundred years when it was practiced as a healing ritual that was participated by the entire town.  The ancient practice of putong involves saints and patrons, leis and coins, drinking and eating, and lasts from six whole hours to an entire day without ceasing.  Some claim that the collective positive energy of the townspeople during a healing ritual can heal the sick.  In modern times, the putong is practiced in welcoming guests or celebrating one’s birthday.


Another fascinating discovery that can only be found in the island province of Marinduque is the Pangkat Kalutang—a group of men who plays beautiful musical using a unique set of instruments:  wooden sticks.  These wooden sticks are made from the branches of bayog and kwatigantrees.  They vary in sizes—the smallest pair resembles a cylindrical remote control while the largest pair can be used for a backyard fence.  Each pair produces only four different notes by banging the wooden sticks together in specific spots.

We were told that the group is, more often than not, hard to catch.  With our putong crowns placed firmly on our heads, our party climbed the grand staircase of the capitol building to be surprised by the Pangkat Kalutang. Sitting there, feeling every bit of the royal visitors they positioned us to be, it felt truly wonderful to be serenaded by the island’s unique music.



Among the many treasures and revealing secrets of the island province, the Moriones Festival is probably its most significant and alluring gem of all, earning it the title “The Lenten Capital of the Philippines.”  The Moriones Festival opens on Palm Sunday and ends on Easter Sunday, making it the Philippines’ longest festival.

Interpreted as a “parody of the Roman soldiers” during the time of Christ, the festival dates back to the 1870s when Father Dionisio Santiago, the local parish priest in the town of Mogpog, started the ritual to encourage the townspeople to focus on the Catholic faith’s activities during the Lenten season.  Using a passage from the Bible “…and at once blood and water poured out” (John 19:34), he made use of the story of Longino, whose blind eye was miraculously healed by the blood of Christ that came from His Wound.  It was Longino who guarded the tomb of Christ and witnessed His resurrection.  It was during the dawn of Easter Sunday when Longino ran around town making known to everyone that Christ is the Son of God.

The Moriones Festival runs seven day straight when the “morions”, most of them men, parade around town in their full morion costume—hand carved wooden masks depicting the stern faces of Roman soldiers, elaborate headgear, and wooden swords and shields.  It is part of the festival’s tradition to keep the identities of the morions a secret, as they are actually fulfilling a vow of penance or thanksgiving.

For an entire week, the morions parade on the streets, some play pranks on children and engage in sword fights much to the delight of the crowd coming from all parts of the country.  Once Longino goes around town proclaiming his faith, the “hunt” or “wild goose chase” for the Roman soldier begins.  This is officially called the habulan. The townspeople help hide Longino, which adds to the merriment of the festival, as the hunt can go as far as climbing trees and crossing rivers.  After two captures and its corresponding escapes, Longino surrenders himself knowing that he had done what he was supposed to do—make known that Christ is the Son of God.  The mock execution is called pugutan, where a berdugo (executioner) chops off Longino’s head.  A mock procession and funeral follow suit.

Apart from the Moriones Festival, Marinduque’s presentation of the senakulo (passion plays) is also well-known. Other Lenten activities observed during the season are the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross), religious processions during Palm Sunday, Holy Wednesday, and Good Friday, and the elaborate salubong (the meeting of Resurrected Christ and Mother Mary).


With the historical facts and trivia that Ambeth Ocampo presented on some of his books –Dirty Dancing: Looking Back 2 (2010) and Death by Garote: Looking Back 3 (2010)—it is wonderful to think that our past didn’t only revolve around tribe leaders and communities at war with each other.  Our rich past also tells us that we are a group of people who know how to trade quality products with nearby countries, who adorn ourselves with precious stones and lush fabrics, and who use porcelain plates and metal works which we got from our trading relations with our Asian neighbors.  

In 1521, Ferdinand Magellan set foot on the Philippine Island and it was in the year 1570 when the first Hispanic explorers set foot in Marinduque. It was the following year, 1571, when Miguel Lopez de Legazpi started the concept of town planning and Hispanic urbanization in the Philippines. The European concept of organizing the people in pueblos (towns) and reducciones through the Spanish friars also began.

However, it wasn’t Miguel Lopez de Legazpi or his troupe who influenced the towns of Marinduque the most. The Spanish priests, who stayed in the towns, had much more impact to the urban planning that took place. Thus, the strong Spanish lineage and influence they left in the island province of Marinduque are evident not just in their culture, but more notably, in their architecture.


The old churches in Marinduque reflect the transition era from the Middle Ages to Renaissance period in Europe where the architecture is patterned after.  The Boac Church was built in 1666 in honor of the Virgin of Immaculate Conception and served as a refuge to many Filipinos from pirate attacks, especially since Marinduque is a province surround by oceans and mountains.

“Architecture, like no other forms, reflects the ideologies of its designer or composer. From 1580 until its completion and consecration in 1792, the church design and construction continually evolved—from a wood and anahaw structure to the imposing stone and brick edifice we see today,” Dindo Asuncion wrote in the book, Marinduque: The Heart of the Philippines.

The church’s architecture is classified as Baroque style, which is the dominant architectural style in Europe in the 1600s.  However, the architecture of Boac Church is a far cry compared to Baroque European churches because of some consideration.

“The Boac Church parallels Il Gesu (of Rome) in many respects,” Asuncion wrote.  “A pediment with a vaulted niche tops the facade. The placement of windows reflects the frontage of the Jesuit Mother Church. Nevertheless, the use of local craftsmanship and materials, thicker walls reinforced with a persistent dose of buttresses, the emphasis on girth rather than height resulted in an interesting variation—the ‘earthquake baroque’.”

On the other hand, the architecture of both Sta. Cruz Church and Gasan Church leans towards the cruciform as its inspiration.  “Perhaps, the missionaries wanted the church structure to relate closely to the town’s name,” Asuncion explained in the book. “Hence, the Jesuit designers opted for the cruciform mode of the basilica leaning towards the Latin cross variation (with the nave forming a longer arm) rather than the Greek cross alternative (arms of equal length). The addition of the transepts intersecting the nave made this possible.”


On our second night in Marinduque, it felt as if we were transported back to the time when gentlemen wear barongs and don hats, and when women wear kimona and saya and cool themselves with handcrafted and embroidered fans.  We found ourselves in the capital town of Boac where the streets are lined with Spanish-style ancestral houses and where the occasional kalesas still roam the city at night.

We stood in front of an old ancestral house whose ground floor was converted into a canteen-style restaurant.  Our guides ushered us towards the second floor of the ancestral home where we found a quaint, beautifully-lit restaurant called Casa de Don Emilio.  The house is made of large planks of wood and overlooks the Boac Town Plaza and the Marinduque Museum.  With our team’s professional cameras and everyone’s smart phones poised at the array of Filipino delicacies they served us, the use of modern technology is an amusing irony to the overall ancestral look and feel of the place.  Apart from the nicely restored antique furnishings, the walls are decorated with old musical instruments and charming chandeliers.

Another Marinduque gem we found is the delectable “ulang-ulang” soup, a native dish made of grated young coconut, de-shelled shrimps, andcalamansi (Philippine lemon). The strips of young coconut meat were so tender we thought it was a type of native pasta and the shrimp meat tasted so fresh especially with the hint of calamansi that left us craving for more.

Ulang-ulang soup, now considered as one of Marinduque’s official native dishes, is actually the homegrown recipe of Aurora Pitero, mother of Mary Rose Sotta, who is the owner of Casa de Don Emilio.  The dishes served in the restaurant trace their roots to family recipes like the bestsellers Paella Valenciana, Adobong Manok sa Gata (another Marinduque delicacy) and Boneless Crispy Pata.

Locally embraced and widespread famous among tourists, Casa de Don Emilio has become a favorite dining spot especially for guests coming from Bellarocca Island Resort and Spa who wish to have a taste of the province’s best kept recipes.


On our way to Marinduque Airport in Gasan, we made a quick stop at the Marinduque Lepidoptera Farm (Butterfly Farm) in Barangay Uno.  The province of Marinduque is actually dubbed as the Butterfly Capital of the Philippines, supplying 85% of the country’s exports of pupa and butterflies.  While butterfly breeding is a relatively new industry in the Philippines, its growth rate is pretty strong considering that three-fourths of the country’s top butterfly breeders can be in Marinduque.

Emer Sevilla, the OIC of the Marinduque Lepidoptera Farm, gave us a quick walkthrough of a butterfly’s life cycle and the role the butterflies play in the tourism of Marinduque.  People believe that when released, the butterflies bring one’s wishes up to heavens.

Each of us was asked to catch one butterfly and place it inside a triangular envelope with our names on it.  Before we boarded our plane that would take us back to Manila, each of us gingerly took the butterflies out of the envelopes and whispered our wishes softly.  After a brief moment of silence, we released them and watched in awe as they flew towards their freedom.  They told us that the butterflies would bring us back to Marinduque someday, knowing that the Heart of the Philippines is throbbing to have us back.

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