Mention the name Palanan, and even province mates of this remote town finds this municipality a mystery, mainly because of its inaccessibility and many natural wonders, said Governor Ma. Gracia Cielo Padaca, who described the 397 – year old town as “one of Isabela’s best kept secrets.” Though some outsiders tag Palanan (population less than 20,000) as “the town that time fogot,” many of its residents don’t seem to mind.
Nestled in the farthest eastern corner of the province of Isabela, bounded by the Pacific Ocean, the relatively small and unknown coastal town of Palanan provides a number of empty and peaceful “island alternatives” when its neighboring provinces are jam-packed with beach frolickers.
The mainly Catholic community, said to be founded by Frnciscan missionaries in 1609 on the banks of the Pinacanawan River, is bounded by the towns of Divilacan in the north and San Mariano in the south and west, and the vast Pacific Ocean in the east.
Paranan, a mixture of Ibanag, Spanish, Tagalog and the indigenous Agta (or Dumagat) language is the town’s dialect. One can freely interact with the Agtas which makes the trip to this island more interesting. The Agtas are semi-nomadic tribes roaming the Sierra Madre Mountains and leaves along the lean-tos along the river and seacoast.
Palanan was established as a township by the Augustinian friars in 1609 and the parish was named in honor of Saint Mary Magdalene whose feast day falls every 22nd of July. This far flung municipality has been known as the place where General Emilio Aguinaldo, President of the First Philippine Republic, made his “last stand” against US forces in 1901. The geographical location of this town has played its role in our history being the last seat of government of our first president. He sought refuge in what is now called Barangay Marikit, where he met and fell in love with local lass named Isabel Lopez. American forces led by General Frederick Funston finally capture General Aguinaldo on March 23, 1901.
Palanan may have failed to prevent the capture of General Aguinaldo by the US troops in 1901, but this does not mean that the town is devoid of heroes. Former Environment Secretary and Representative Heherson Alvarez, pushed for the establishment in the northern Sierra Madre mountains of a nature park. The park, which later became a component of the World-Bank funded integrated Protected Areas System, was declared the Palanan Wilderness.
Nature conservationist have managed to push Palanan into the limelight, calling it “the home of the guardians of the Sierra Madre” and citing local folks for sacrificing their poor town’s progress and development” in order to save the virgin forests in the northern part of the mountain range. The mountains are “wild and remote, with not a single road crossing the range in its entire length (although most maps do erroneously show several routes).” The terrain is extremely rugged, the mountains steep and densely forested. The highest point within the area is Mount Cresta (eleavation:5486 feet), with at least two more peaks namely Mount Divilacan (4,301 feet) and Mount Palanan (3,977 feet).”
More than 90,000 hectares of Palanan’s total land area of 1,220 square kilometers are timberland, while another 10,339 hectares are used as cropland. It has a built-up area of only 52.05 hectares. In the absence of direct road access from adjacent towns, Palanan can only be reached by a 30-35 minute flight in a six-seater, single engine Cyclone Cessna commuter plane from Cauayan City or a six to seven-hour boat ride from the towns of Dingalan or Baler in Aurora province, in the south, or a three to five day hike from San Mariano town. Except for some tricycles, a few horses and improvised three-wheeled motorized “kuligligs”, the streets of Palanan are empty most of the time.
“Taking the plane in itself is a treat in itself,” Governor Padaca emphasized. “You can see the beauty of the Sierra Madre from the sky, the green treetops look like giant broccolis. Eco tourists will be glad to know that six kinds of forests have been identified in the area, ranging from the lowland evergreen to montane, mangrove beach forest, limestone and forest growing on ultra basic rocks.
Bird studies conducted in the early 90s by an international team of scientists revealed 241 species, along with 78 of the nation’s 169 endemic species, including the mighty Philippine Eagle. It was a similar story with mammals, 14 species of bats were also found to be endemic.
According to Department of Tourism’s Regional director Blessida Diwa, for a long time, tourism has not been given much attention in the province despite its diverse offering to both environmentalist and regular tourists. But the DOT, with the help of the local government of Isabela, is trying to change that now. Palanan’s rich and colorful historical background, natural harbors, abundant corrals, prolific marine life and rich terrestrial areas including virgin forests are just among the resources that it can offer for eco-tourism destinations.
And then there are the virgin white sand beaches of Dicotcotan and Didadungan, probably Isabela’s best kept secrets. The coastline of both beaches are very much exposed to strong waves from the Pacific Ocean, perfect not only for swimming but also for surfing. Dicotcotan beach has a three-kilometer coastline with coral reefs, sea grass beads and sandy shoreline that is fringed with a coastal forest and a a village. According to Reynante de Veyra, a staff from the city hall, there has been frequent sightings of pointed nosed dolphins and hump back whales aside from the various species of fishes and shellfish, and marine turtles that can be seen from the surface.
Other interesting eco-tourism spots in Palanan are the Culasi Beach, Diminalo Lake, Kanataw Lake, Digoyo Lake, Kanasamuyan Cave, Disangkilan and Sad-sad falls. A lot of natural attractions to see which makes the trip to this remote town time well spent.
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