The Provincial Profile of Batanes

 

Batanes

The outpost of the Philippines in the middle of a turbulent sea, Batanes province comprises the northernmost isles of the Philippines. The island of Y'ami is only 224 kilometers from Taiwan. The Balintang Channel, where the Pacific Ocean and China Sea meet, separates the islands from the rest of Luzon. The three major islands of Itbayat, Sabtang and Batan, are the only inhabited islands of the small archipelago. About half of its area is hilly and mountainous. Typhoons on a northwesterly path regularly sweep through the islands from July to October although rainfall is heaviest from August to November. Batanes, as a whole, enjoys a pleasantly cooler climate because of its greater distance from the equator. From December until February, temperatures may dip as low as 7 degrees Celsius.

 

History

The Ivatans lived in relatively well-populated settlements at the time western travelers visited the islands. William Dampier, an English buccaneer, visited Batanes in 1687 and found the people organized into communities built around protected settlements called idjangs, which were usually defensive positions on top of steep hills.

The Dominican friars attempted to Christianize the Ivatans as early as 1686 but the efforts were abandoned with the death of two resident missionaries. In 1718, missionaries made another attempt to bring the people of Batanes under the Cross. Missions directed from the island of Calayan in the Babuyan Group were sent to Batanes to urge the residents to resettle in the Babuyanes.

It was to the credit of Governor Jose Basco y Vargas that the islands were finally brought under the Spanish Crown in 1782. Batanes was annexed to the colony the following year but the inhabitants remained unreconciled to their loss of liberty. The islands were constituted into a separate province but it was later downgraded to the status of a town and attached to the province of Cagayan. The islands regained the status as a province in 1855 but was again reduced to a dependency of Cagayan in 1900 when the Americans took control of the islands. In 1909, by virtue of Act 1952, Batanes was again established as a separate province.

Because of its strategic location, the Batanes was one of the first points of attack by the invading Japanese forces at the start of the Pacific hostilities of the Second World War. During the 1950s and 1960s the Philippine government encouraged the Ivatans to resettle in other parts of the country. As a result of that program, Ivatan communites were established in Mindanao.

 

People, Culture and the Arts

Batanes, is the home of the Ivatans, a sturdy, self-sufficient people with a very strong sense of community. These people trace their roots to prehistoric Formosan seafarers that migrated or were driven to the islands. The Ivatans are closely related to the ancient people of Formosa and their languages, Ivatan and Ichbayaten, can be understood across the Bashi Channel. Filipino and English, however, are widely spoken and understood by all peoples of Batanes.

The culture, the architecture, the maritime technology, and agriculture are adapted to the weather of the islands. The Ivatan houses are built with thick walls of stone and lime and thatched with thick layers of cogon. Sturdier sea boats called faluas serve as the main mode of transport between islands. The fields are often hedged with trees that break the wind’s full fury and allow rootcrops to grow. The entire Ivatan culture is built on self-sufficiency, hence, there is no need for markets.

Having long been isolated from the main body of the Philippines, the Ivatan culture is distinctively rich in indigenous traditions. The wealth of Ivatan oral traditions from the sisyavak (humorous anecdotes and tales) and kabbata (legends) to the kabbuni (riddles) and pananaban (proverbs) has only recently been brought to the attention of anthropologists.

The lyric song laji is their most precious traditional literary form and sung without accompaniment during important and happy occasions. Lyrics of the laji are considered the best Ivatan folk poetry. The kalusan are working songs sung collectively by the people of Batanes. These are sung by the Ivatans as they work in the fields, row or cut timber. A vachi (or song leader) starts the singing with the prefatory lines and workers follow with the rest of the song.

The entire archipelago is a living museum in which to savor the unique culture of the Ivatans. Among the oldest structures in the islands are the whitewashed, low, well-proportioned churches, one of which is present in every town. There are also the ruins of Songsong—a "ghost" barangay of roofless stone houses abandoned after it was hit by tidal waves in the 1950s; and the prehistoric Burial Caves of Itbayat, where the remains of the dead were placed in clay jars and left in the caves.

 

Trade and Investments

Isolated from mainland Philippines by inclement weather and rough seas, Batanes offers excellent opportunities for investments in tourism and marine resource management. The island province lies along sea lanes between the Philippines and the major economies of East Asia. It is the smallest province in terms of land area. Much of the 209 square kilometers of land is rolling, making it ideal for livestock raising, and cultivation of garlic and rootcrops. The waters around Batanes are very rich in mackerel, yellow fin tuna, dorado, grouper, giant sea snail, sea urchin, lobsters and many fish varieties. Batanes has one of the highest literacy rates in the country and its labor force of close to 10,000 is highly-skilled, highly-trained and hardworking.

Access to the islands is limited and mostly irregular. There are two airstrips in the province; the domestic airport in Basco, and another airstrip for light aircraft in Itbayat. There is, at present, only one regular passenger airline making regular weekly flights to Basco from Laoag, although chartered planes provide additional access. There are five seaports that connect the islands to the mainland, the largest of which is the Basco seaport. Chartered sea crafts from Aparri and Manila facilitate the movement of goods and supplies to and from the province. Smaller sea crafts ply the main routes between Batan and the islands of Sabtang and Itbayat. All air and seaborne transportation is possible only in good weather. The main road network around the island of Batan is in good condition. The Batanes Electric Cooperative provides 12 hours of electric service on the island of Batan while the National Power Corporation provides three hours of electricity to Sabtang and Itbayat.. Water is provided by springs in the forested hills and mountains of the islands. Communications with the rest of the Philippines is provided mainly by PILTEL, which has opened four calling stations in the province.

Eco-tourism and cultural tourism provide the most viable opportunities for investments. The gently rolling hills, sandy and stony beaches, unique ecosystems, distinctive culture, hospitable people, and cool climate provide a thoroughly different atmosphere for both local and international tourists. Additional transportation facilities, such as air connections and better inter-island ferry links and improved lodging facilities and support services, such as restaurants and souvenir shops, are areas of opportunity.

Blessed with an expanse of seas surrounding the province, fishing beckons as another potentially rewarding endeavor. Improving current port facilities from fair weather to an all weather type and providing the port with fish storage facilities will vastly facilitate the establishment of commercial fishing.

Region

Cagayan Valley

Province

Batanes

Governor

Vicente S. Gato

Capital

Basco

Income/Financial Resources (1999)

P166.5 M

Income classification (1996)

5th

Expenditure (1998)

P73.4 M

Population (2000 projection)

15,090

Labor Force (1998)

9,000

Land area (in hectares)

219 sq. kms.

Major dialects/languages

Ivatan, Ichbayaten, Ilocano

Barangays

29

City/ies

 

Municipalities

6 (BASCO, Itbayat, Ivana, Mahatao, Sabtang, Uyugan)

Infrastructure facilities

Hospitals (1996): 2, Coll./Univ. (1995): 2

Bgy. Health stations (1996): 6

Major products

Small-scale farming & fishing; root crops, vegetables, fruit trees; dairy animals, hogs, poultry

Natural resources

Rich seas

Indigenous people

Ivatan

 

Development Initiative Highlights:

  • To increase the province's agricultural output
  • To improve port and storage facilities in support of an expansion of the fishing industry
  • To develop the eco-tourism potential of the province
  • To enhance delivery of basic services
  • To promote environmental protection
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