Why a Group of Adventurers Braved the Last Island of the Philippines
In the northernmost tip of the Philippines, the last island of the Philippines stands like a lonely sentinel protruding above rough seas. At a glance, Mavulis looks Jurassic. Century plants, which are prehistoric vegetation, abound in the rocky island while flocks of large birds glide overhead. To humans, Mavulis is an inhospitable island, offering no food and providing poor shelter. No ship dare dock so near its shores, lest it becomes wreckage on the rocks. The waters around Mavulis are notoriously
Prehistoric: Mavulis is an Inhospitable Place that Feels Prehistoric
The Philippines' last island in the north is also its first line of defense. Because Mavulis is the Philippines' northernmost edge, the outline of the country's territory is drawn using straight lines that start from here. Although uninhabited, the island bears immeasurable strategic, military, and political significance. Without Mavulis and the baselines we are able to draw from it, the Philippines would lose hundreds of square kilometers of territory.
Javier Cang, who prefers to be called Javi, is a 28-year-old photographer and finance professional who fights for the environment and
"There is only a small window of time every year when ships can make a calm passage to the island."
Making the Impossible Voyage to Mavulis
Last year, during a relief mission in Itbayat, Batanes, Waves for Water, a non-government organization, found out about the military's plan of constructing a fisherman's shelter in Mavulis. The goal of Waves for Water is simple: to provide clean water access to everybody. Mavulis,
At the Summit of Mavulis' Highest Point, the Philippine Flag is Raised to Assert the Philippines' Territorial Integrity
"When we heard of a joint effort to establish a fisherman’s shelter on Mavulis, we jumped at the opportunity to provide clean water access knowing that remote areas like Mavulis have little to no access to water. After a year of planning and coordinating, we see
The shelter, apart from being a refuge from the storm, is also designed to provide electricity and potable water to fishermen and Filipino soldiers patrolling the area.
"Getting to Mavulis is a challenge in itself," said Javi. "From Basco, it takes multiple hours of rough sea travel by boat. To make things more difficult, there is only a small window of time every year when ships can make a calm passage to the island."
Boarding the Military's C-130
After landing in Basco, the group traveled by boat for hours to rendezvous with navy ship BRP Davao del Sur, which was anchored some kilometers away from Mavulis. Javi and
At that time, the waves were getting bigger, making it more difficult and dangerous to climb the side ladder. Thankfully, the Philippine Navy’s marines are highly trained for such maneuvers. "On the ship, the marines were selfless in providing assistance, always looking out for everyone’s safety and well-being," said Javi.
"Many parts of the mission involved military-like procedures, such as boarding rigid-hull inflatable boats (RIB) from a side-ladder of BRP Davao del Sur. Despite the dangers, we constantly felt secure because of our navy."
Navy's Marines and Crew Had Been Away from Their Families for Months
The Filipino soldiers who protect our seas do so at the cost of being away from their families.
"It was delightful to see that they find
"During their rest hours, we watched them play badminton. At night, we all partook in karaoke."
At sea, there is no cellphone reception, which is why many of the soldiers aboard BRP Davao del Sur have not been able to speak with their families. Most of them find ways to entertain themselves just to rid themselves of homesickness.
"One common trait that I observed was their earnest dedication. Many of them spend months away from their loved ones, often without cellular signal, but they persevere tirelessly with their missions," said Javi.
A Navy Man Takes a Well-deserved Break
After a couple of days of scouting the weather's condition, the military finally decided that it was
The mission on the island is to hand over the newly constructed shelter to the fishermen, and for Waves for Water, to teach the soldiers and the fishermen how to use the water filtration system.
"During the inauguration, we also conducted a handover of the filters to the persons who will eventually use them. The filters are only as effective as the people using them, so it is critical that proper filter usage is communicated well to the persons who will use them," said Javi.
Newly Constructed and Fisherman's Shelter on Mavulis, Handed Over by the Military to the Fishermen
The shelter is not only a refuge for fishermen and the military. It also provides electricity to the island, thanks to the solar power facility donated by One Meralco Foundation. It also has a desalination plant to provide potable water. Apart from these new additions to the island, Waves for Water also provided water filtration systems to the military and fishermen.
Waves for Water: One Filter Provides Clean Water to 100 People for Five Years
Used correctly, a single filter from Waves for Water can provide safe, clean, drinking water for five years to a community of 100 people. Most of the people who will benefit from these filters are the fishermen, who rely on muddy rainwater for drinking on Mavulis.
"We also met fishermen on Mavulis who mostly originated from Itbayat. They shared stories of the conditions they often have to brave to reach the island: waves as tall as buildings, roaring winds, and unpredictable weather," said Javi.
He continues: "There is neither a natural source of fresh water nor fruit-bearing trees on Mavulis. When the fishermen seek refuge on the island, they rely on rainwater and a papaya tree that they recently planted for sustenance. Their traditional fishing boats, called Tataya, are simple but rugged, no more than a fiberglass hull and an engine. The bravery of these fishermen is admirable."
Raising the Flag on Mavulis Protects it from Foreign Poachers
"There was one particular part of the trip that gave me goosebumps: when we raised the Philippine flag atop of a peak on Mavulis. It was a proud moment to be a Filipino!"
Raising the flag is like raising a barrier of protection on the island for Filipino fishermen. In recent years, Filipino fishermen avoided Mavulis because of the presence of foreign poachers on the island.
The poachers only stopped when the government asserted its sovereignty on the island by raising the Philippine flag on Mavulis' highest peak.
In 2016, the Philippine government hoisted the very first Philippine flag on Mavulis, according to a report by Philippine Star. But because of the strong winds and violent seas around Mavulis, the flag did not last. The flagpole was damaged by strong winds that same
Philippine Flag Raising Ceremony on Mavulis in May 2019
A new Philippine flag was raised again on Mavulis on May 2019. The ceremony was simple yet very chilling, owing to the significance of the act. It was attended by members of the military, various stakeholders or NGOs, who helped build the Fisherman's Shelter and donated equipment, and the fishermen of Itbayat.
Aside from the hoisted flag, a large
Homeward Bound with the Military
Going back to Manila, Javi and the rest of the comoany hitched a ride with the military aboard the BRP Davao del Sur.
"The entire journey took nearly a week. From an undisclosed military airbase, we took a Philippine Air Force C130 to Basco, Batanes then boarded BRP Davao del Sur," said Javi.
"From Basco, it was roughly five to six hours of northward sailing to Mavulis. The islands north of the main island of Batan are remote, yet fascinating. Their landscapes are dramatic and are often surrounded by jagged rocks. After the completion of our mission, we sailed all the way south to Manila on board BRP Davao del Sur. The southward journey took around three days, taking us along the western seaboard of Luzon."