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Antique and Oriental Mindoro Are Fighting Over This Island. The Courts Finally Made a Decision

Who really owns Liwagao Island?
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Liwagao Island is a tiny island sandwiched between the bigger islands of Mindoro and Panay. Measuring about 1.14 square kilometers, it lies 19 kilometers southeast of Bulalacao, Oriental Mindoro and about 15 kilometers northwest of the town of Caluya in Antique Province. 

For years, the island has been the subject of an intense dispute between the provinces of Oriental Mindoro and Antique. Although small, Liwagao has long stretches of sandy white beaches and a diverse marine ecosystem. It’s also been reported that the island is a favorite hatching ground of sea turtles.  there's even a resort that offers kitesurfing on the island. One can just imagine the potential for tourism.

Who owns Liwagao Island

Officially, Liwagao Island is a part of Caluya, Antique. In a Philippine Daily Inquirer article, the Provincial Board of Antique claimed in a resolution that the island is “within the territorial jurisdiction of the province of Antique” based on an original certificate of title issued by the Register of Deeds. That certificate of title identified Liwagao as part of Barangay Sibolo in Caluya. 

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Other pieces of evidence that Antique has presented to claim ownership of the island include a resolution from the Commission on Elections that identified certain registered voters and elected officials of Barangay Sibolo as residents of Liwagao, as well as a map from the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority that shows the island as being geographically part of Antique.

But Oriental Mindoro presented its own case to the courts that lays claim to the island based on historical records. 

The PDI article cites Presidential Decree 1081, which former President Ferdinand Marcos signed on November 10, 1978. The decree named certain islands, coves and peninsulas as “tourist zones” and placed under the control of the Philippine Tourism Authority. Based on the decree, Liwagao (which also goes by the name Libago) is mentioned as being under the jurisdiction of Bulalacao, Oriental Mindoro.

Additionally, in a news release posted on the Provincial Information Office of Oriental Mindoro, the province claims that, back in either 1978 or 1979, then-Bulalacao Mayor Dolores Bago “lent” the island to then Caluya-Mayor Oscar Lim. But this was a purely verbal agreement, the provincial government of Oriental Mindoro claims, and so does not have supporting legal documents. This ties in with a section in a Supreme Court decision about the case, in which Mayor Bago agreed to lend administration of Liwagao to Mayor Lim.

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“The agreement was made orally and without executing any formal documents to this effect,” the document read. “The condition attached to the agreement was that the island would be returned upon termination of either party's terms in office.”

The PDI report also said Lim submitted a signed affidavit detailing this arrangement. Lim requested to “borrow” the island because he wanted to have jurisdiction over it to capture a number of fugitives from Caluya who were reportedly hiding out in Liwagao Island.  

After the terms of both mayors ended in 1987, Mayor Lim allegedly returned Liwagao Island to the Municipality of Bulalacao, although the Municipality of Caluya continued to exercise administration over the island.

Still, despite the long period of the island’s status of being “on loan” to Antique, Oriental Mindoro maintains that the municipality of Bulalaco continued to be a huge part of the daily lives of the residents of Liwagao. 

Dito nila pinag-aaral ang kanilang mga anak, malaking bahagi pa rin ng supply ng pagkain at pangunahing pangangailangan ay dito pa rin nagmumula (This is where they sent their kids to school, and a significant portion of the island’s supply of food and basic necessities still came from Bulalacao),” the release said.

Oriental Mindoro takes action

Oriental Mindoro’s Provincial Council passed a resolution in April 2002 “confirming its jurisdictional rights and dominion over Liwagao Island,” and yet, the Municipality of Caluya and the Province of Antique continued to claim and exercise authority over it. 

In July 2011, Oriental Mindoro, through its Provincial Development Council, resolved to take steps to officially “take back” jurisdiction of Liwagao and formed a task force to revive the province’s dormant claim to the island. Initially, the Council requested a dialogue with their counterparts from Antique, but in May 2012, the Antique Provincial Council said it is “not amenable to any form of settlement on the alleged dispute of jurisdiction or dominion over the Island of Liwagao.”

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A year later, in September 2012, Oriental Mindoro officials filed a petition with the Regional Trial Court in the municipality of Roxas, Oriental Mindoro formally laying claim to the island.

But the provincial government of Antique filed a petition with the Supreme Court questioning whether the RTC has jurisdiction over Oriental Mindoro’s “petition for recovery of property and declaration of territorial and political jurisdiction/dominion over Liwagao Island.” The petition filed by Antique provincial officials was eventually dismissed for lack of merit, with the SC saying that the RTC has jurisdiction over the dispute.

On August 20, Oriental Mindoro’s PIO announced that the RTC came out with a decision declaring that Liwagao Island is “within the territorial, political, and administrative jurisdiction of the municipality of Bulalacao, Oriental Mindoro.”

Sa wakas makalipas ang siyam na taon ay matatamo na natin ang ating pangarap na mapasaatin ang isla ng Liwagao sa bisa ng desisyon ng RTC. Isang pagkakataon ito para sa Pamahalaang Panlalawigan na maipahatid ang Galing at Serbisyo para sa lahat ng mga Mindoreño” (At last, after nine years, we can finally say that our dream of Liwagao being declared part of Oriental Mindoro through this RTC decision has finally come true. This is a chance for the provincial government to extend services to all Mindoreños),” Oriental Mindoro Governor Bonz Dolor said about the decision.

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There is no word yet whether Antique officials will appeal the RTC decision.

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Paul John Caña
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