It is an archipelago within an archipelago. The province of Palawan groups 1,768 islands, roughly a fourth of the Philippines' total in a chain stretching from the northeast to the southwest. Palawan is about 625 km. in length. The main island in a narrow strip, which is only 40 kilometers at its widest. Palawan lies southwest of Luzon. The South China Sea lies due northwest and the Sulu Sea on the southeast. The Balabac Strait separates it from Borneo, while Mindoro Island looms beyond the northeastern Mindoro Strait. A mountain range runs along the island interior bisecting it into an east and west coast. The western region experiences a dry season from April to September and a wet season the rest of the year. The east has a short dry season from April to June with varying rainfall the rest of the year.



The earliest evidences of human settlement in the Philippines were discovered in 1962 in a cave in Palawan. Called the Tabon Man, the remains were believed to be 24,000 years old. Other excavations in Palawan have supported early habitation. The island was also an early trade center. The discovery of a golden image of the garuda or mystical bird of Hindu myth attests to the contacts with Malay traders. The island was also called Palau-ye - "Land of Beautiful, safe harbor" by Chinese traders.

Settlers from Borneo and southern Philippines established settlements in southern Palawan in the 12th century. These communities closely traded with Brunei and accepted the suzerainty of the Sultan in the 14th century. The Sulu Sultanate, however, held a conflicting claim to the island and exacted tribute from loyal datus until the 18th century.

The Calamianes was organized as an encomienda in 1591 and Recollect missionaries established missions in the Cuyo, Agutaya and Taytay in 1622. The Moros raided these settlements, which lay along the main routes to the Visayas during much of the 17th and 18th centuries. Taytay was an important outpost established to check on the raids. A fort was strengthened in 1728 to check on these incursions. In 1735, Taytay withstood a strong Moro force sent purposely to dislodge the Spaniards from Palawan.

In 1705, the Sultan of Sulu purportedly ceded Palawan to the Spaniards. The Sultan of Brunei also made a cession of territory in 1749. Despite legal claims to the land, the Spaniards were unable to develop the south because of the continued hostility of the Moro residents. In 1818, the entire island was placed under the province of Calamianes. By 1858, the province was divided into two provinces, Castilla, which included the Calamianes and northern Palawan, and Asturias, which covered the remaining portions of the island. It was later divided into three districts, Calamianes, Paragua and Balabac.

Puerto Princesa and Balabac were destinations of many Filipino petty criminals and political prisoners during the waning decades of the 19th century. The Americans established civil rule in northern Palawan 1902, calling the province Paragua. In 1903, pursuant to Philippine Commission Act No. 1363, the province was reorganized to include southern portions and renamed the Palawan.


People, Culture and the Arts

The province is a rich cultural tapestry of different cultural groups representing three major cultural divisions of the country. Palawan is home to indigenous Christian groups such as the Cuyonons and the Agutaynons. These groups are considered the ethnic elite of the province and have been at the forefront of economic and political development in the north. The traditional homeland of these people are the islands of Cuyo and Agutaya that straddle the sea between mainland Palawan and Panay.

Muslim groups, such as the Molbogs, the Jama Mapun and the Tausugs live in communities that hug the southern coast of the islands. Most are migrants from surrounding Muslim regions, especially Sulu and Cagayan de Sulu. The Molbogs are indigenous to Palawan and concentrate in the island of Balabac.

The Tagbanuas are among the most known and largest of the indigenous Palawan groups. They inhabit the central portion of the islans and are mostly animists. The women wear colorful clothes and are fond of jewelry. These people are excellent basket weavers and use materials like buri, rattan, pandan and bamboo to produce a variety of basket designs. They are also fine carvers who produce all manners of toys, housewares and figures. The Tagbanuas are among the few Filipino groups that have retained their syllabic writing system, which they use to write their literature. The Pagdiwata, a ritual associated with rice wine, is a unique Tagbanua observance.

There are smaller cultural communities add color to the culture of the province. The Pala'wan and the Tau't batu are found in the south, the Bataks live in isolated communities in the northeast. The Ken-uy live near Brooke's Point, and the Kalamian are found in the Calamianes Islands.

The influx of migrants from other provinces of the country has allowed Filipino to function as the island lingua franca. The settlement was encouraged during the American period and continued until the 1960s and 1970s. The Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm, a rehabilitation farm established during the American regime, has drawn families of inmates to live in the vicinity of the 37,000 hectare farm because of the promise of a fresh start in the new land.


Trade and Investments

The last Philippine frontier strives to maintain its leadership as a major food producer while diversifying its economy to make full use of its potentials as a hub for industries. The province provides surplus rice to Metro Manila and other provinces. Other important crops include corn, coconuts and cashew. The province supplies an estimated 65% of Metro Manila's fish consumption from the extensive fishing grounds that surround this archipelago. Oil and gas fields in the northern section of the island are extensive and are the subject of exploration and commercial extraction operations. The province also has deposits of nickel, chromite, mercury, iron, saprolite, feldspar, talc, marble, and silica. The province's forests cover 54% of its territory and supply rattan, almaciga and honey. More than 524,000 people call the province home and are a dependable source of labor to fuel the province's industry.

Puerto Princesa is about an hour from Manila by airplane. Several airlines provide daily trips to the city. Several smaller airstrips in Coron, Cuyo, El Nido, Roxas, Taytay and Culion provide additional air access to Palawan. Domestic shipping lines link Puerto Princesa, Coron, Taytay and Cuyo to ports in other provinces. Power is generated by the Napocor and distributed by two cooperatives. Three telecommunications firms provide direct dialing service. There are 29 banks in the province, mostly concentrated in the vicinity of Puerto Princesa.

The province welcomes investments that will sustain its push to become a leading agricultural and fisheries center. Agro-industrial ventures, such as seaweed farming, tree farming, food processing, fish preparing and canning, pearl culturing, cattle breeding and feed milling will strengthen the province's premier position. The province hopes to attract additional investments to improve its industrial capabilities and encourage more investments in storage facilities, shipping, transportation and power generation. The island is also pushing for more investments in eco-tourism to sustain its campaign to protect its wildlife heritage and make it a viable alternative to timber extraction. The province has a solid reputation as a tourist destination, with its myriad islands, secluded white sand beaches and unique landforms. Calauit Wildlife Sanctuary, El Nido Marine Reserve, Tubbataha Reefs, Saint Paul Subterranean Park and Ursula Island can be further promoted as tour destinations. Resorts and other tourist facilities are very welcome.


Partnership Initiatives

The province of Palawan maintains one of the largest remaining forests in the Philippines, covering more than half the island's extent. Beneath the waters around the province stretch some of the most beautiful and extensive coral reefs in the country. Despite official government protection, both resources are under continuing threat from illegal extractive activities. Left uncurbed, these activities would eventually reduce these resources to barren wastelands.

In 1993, the provincial governor initiated the formation of Bantay Palawan, a multi-sectoral approach to enforce the environmental laws. This intitiative brought together the LGUs, the PNP, DENR and various other agencies and non-government groups in an effort to increase surveillance capabilities and bring violators before courts of law. To strengthen the program's effectivity, municipal chapters have been formed to allow municipal LGUs and groups to fully participate in the effort to preserve their heritage.

As a result of this effort, millions of pesos worth of illegal logs have been confiscated and illegal fishing fleets have been apprehended. More importantly, through the program, Palawan's people have realized the great value that lies in preserving nature's resources. This consciousness will be crucial in sustaining conservation efforts by different interest groups that have come together to ensure that Palawan will remain the country's nature preserve.



Southern Tagalog




Joel T. Reyes


Puerto Princesa City

Income/Financial Resources (1999)

P521.3 M

Income classification (1996)


Expenditure (1998)

P414.5 M

Population (2000 projection)


Voting Population (1994)


Labor Force (1998)


Land area

16,456 sq. kms.

Major dialects/languages

Cuyonon, Agutaynon, Tagalog

No. of Barangays





(23) Aborlan, Agutaya, Araceli, Balabac, Bataraza, Booke’s Point, Busuanga, Cagayancillo, Coron, Culion, Cuyo, Dumaran, El Nido (Bacuit), Gaudencio E. Abordo (Linapacan), Kalayaan, Magsaysay, Narra, Quezon, Rizal ( Marcos), Roxas, San Vicente, Sofronio Espanola, Taytay

Infrastructure facilities

Hospitals (1996): 13, Coll./Univ. (1995): 8

Bgy. Health stations (1996): 130




Major products

Rice, Coconut, corn, banana, vegetables and fruits.

Natural resources

Virgin forests, diverse wildlife, nickel, chromite and silica, mangroves, fishing grounds

Indigenous people

Tagbanua, Batak, Pal’awan, Molbog


Development Initiative Highlights:

  • To implement its Provincial Energy Development Program
  • To make every Palaweño self-reliant in terms of health needs through province-wide community-based health programs
  • To increase literacy rate to 98% by the year 2000
  • To provide adequate supply of potable water to all households
  • To curb destruction of terrestrial and marine resources