Batanes is the smallest province in the Philippines. It has 6 municipalities (Basco, Mahatao, Ivana, Uyugan, Sabtang and Itbayat), spread over 3 inhabited islands (Sabtang in the south, Batan in the middle, and Itbayat far north). In terms of population, it is also very small (less than 12,000 for the entire province; my town Digos has 60,000 people!). Because of the harsh environment, the people, known as Ivatans, are strong-willed, hardy, and very cooperative. Some fascinating facts and observations about the province and its people:
- It has an almost zero crime rate. They didn’t even give me keys in Shanedel’s! I dropped my wallet in Mahatao, and after 2 hours, I retraced my steps and it was still there!
- They have a literacy rate nearing 100%! Education has a very high value here. You talk to an elderly Ivatan in Tagalog, she talks back in great English!
- They have 100% Philheath coverage! And this is the only province that I know of that has its own health insurance system aside from Philhealth. Basic services, health, and education are priorities here, quite different from the rest of the Philippines.
- They have an excellent waste disposal system here. Even in Itbayat, there is a truck collecting garbage regularly from the houses. And in Basco, households segregate their wastes! MMDA would be jobless here.
- Their culture is very much preserved: very solemn Catholic masses, a solid bayanihan system, etc. Ivatans are known to be rather shy but cooperative, hospitable, very hard-working, and respectful. And I can now attest that they really are!
My parents were furious when they found out I was going to Batanes, all alone for more than 2 weeks. But if there’s any place a lonesome female can be stranded in for weeks and still feel safe, this is it! I feel that there’s a bigger chance for me getting stabbed by a stranger while waiting for a jeep in front of PGH in Taft Avenue, than getting robbed by an Ivatan during my entire 2 weeks!
This morning, I talked to Dr. Thea De Guzman of UPCM Class 2003 (a fellow INTARMED, oh, I’m proud of this breed this time), an ipula (a non-Ivatan) who has made Batanes her home for the past 3 years. She said that the beauty and charm of Batanes lies not so much in its scenery but in its people. Oh, how true indeed!
An 82-year old lola in far away Raele, Itbayat. She still goes to her farm alone. Hypertension and diabetes are rare here. Most people die of accidents and infections. They say more and more people are getting liver diseases due to Ginebra San Miguel, consumed like water during cold weather, which happens almost all year round. During my stay in Itbayat, I think I was the most unfit and unhealthy person in town. I was the only doctor in town but I was also the only obese person there! Nakakahiya!
Senior citizens after mass. I was surprised at the virtual absence of 20-30 somethings in Itbayat. The population was mostly young children and old people. There were a number of 30-somethings, all with families. They say the young people are in Basco, Manila, or abroad, studying or working. Sadly, all these young people eventually decide to stay in the cities. Very few decide to come back. Lolo is 97 years old.
After settling in in Basco, I decided to take a trip to Sabtang, an island south of Batan, 40-minutes away by harrowing falowa ride. I ended up in Itbayat, far away up north. You have seen some photos of the people I met there. Hopefully, I'll further sort my thoughts out and give you a viable account of my experience there soon enough.
According to my Lonely Planet, the word Ivatan literally means "where boats are cast ashore". No wonder I'm drawn to this mystical land. I'm a boat cast ashore too. I only wish this 2 weeks of hibernation/ preventive maintenance/ rehabilitation/ "under repair"/ soul searching/ whatever would buy me some direction. I don't want to be a castaway soul anymore.