I have never been to any town in the Philippines where Butterflies were given so many honors enough to make a fiesta out of it, and to my discovery, almost the whole town depends on growing and cultivating these colorful species for their livelihood. It was the Gasan town’s foundation day celebration and for the whole day, the town put up its best “wings” forward to both visitors, tourists, balik-bayans and neighboring town folks as well. It was enough valid excuse for me to venture out to this town, despite the rainy weather that day I left Manila.
Gasan is practically one of those overlooked towns in the country, unless you go out of your way and spend time to venture into this quaint little town. In fact its 11,830 hectares of land area is considered to be one of the cleanest municipalities in the country today. It is one of the six municipalities of the province of Marinduque-home to the world famous Moriones festival.
Legend attributes the name to “Gasang-Gasang, the local term for coral stones, that once abounds near the mouth of the Matandang Gasan River. The bank of this old river is widely believed to be the site of the earliest settlements in the island. In time, the said coral stones would be used by the natives as fortification to the walls surrounding the church and convent built on a hill. These walls, fragments of which exists to this very day eventually formed into a baluarte where a church and convent was formed to create the town known today as Gasan.
Unknown to many, this town is also considered the butterfly capital of the Philippines, contributing 85% of the country’s butterfly and pupa exports. More than three-fourths of the butterfly breeders nationwide are based largely in this town and neighboring villages. Butterfly farming started only recently but is fast becoming an international growth industry with estimates of Pesos 100 million worth of exports. Worldwide, the market is estimated at US dollars100 million.
We went to a cooperative butterfly farm, called Marinduque Lepidoptera Farms ([email protected]) in Barangay Uno Gasan where this writer found the butterflies so friendly. Mrs. Emer Sevilla, the person in charge of the butterfly cooperative, each gave us one live butterfly in a triangular envelope and said that based on a local legend, If I wanted to make a wish come true, I should whisper this wish to the butterfly before setting it free. The butterfly is supposed to take my wish to the heavens where it will then be granted. Be as it may, I made the ritual and instantly, gave me that feeling of hope.
Aside from the colorful butterflies that we saw during the visit at the butterfly farm, we were also given an indigenous parade of calesas spruced up in various decorations of local materials, shells, plants and young couples in their native costumes.
Around town, we drove around and went to one of the town’s highest point where we saw Tres Reyes, name after the three kings in the new testament of the bible. From afar, we saw several beach coves ideal for swimming and skinny dipping. According to my guide, there is one place in this island called Sitio Barangay Pingan or plates, for the many Sung and Ching dynasty plates and jars that were found in the area, believed to have been swept ashore by sunken Chinese vessels a century ago when foreign vessels would traverse this area for trade and commerce. These tiny islands also boasts of natural sandbars, but locals warned us not to swim because of treacherous undertow currents. So we ended up further into the inner town’s Dawis falls.
Pasalubong wise, the town is starting to market its special vinegar and bagoong where Captain Rolando Tolentino, the mayor of Gasan, claims that the famous Balayan bagoong actually comes from his town. There is also a special bibingka to be had. Buntal place mats and coasters and abaca doormats are also available. The woodcarvers make mobiles of birds, butterflies and bees, consigning many of these in the Poblacion Gasan across from the Gasan Complex and People’s Restaurant.
As we were driven back to the bus station (JAC Liner Tel No.: 927-6139 or 928 6140) for the ride home to imperial Manila, I noticed a lot of Japanese and Caucasians walking away from the seaside only to discover that a lot of these foreigners have settled in the town mostly near the coast. Some balikbayans have decided to build there dream homes in the area; others have built small bed and bath establishments. I wondered? Suddenly it donned on me – the butterflies and their gentle way of life. These foreigners must have found a new way of gentle living.
by Vic A. Lactaoen; photos by Teodoro Pelaez. Vic Albornoz Lactaoen is currently a travel writer for Cebu Pacific Airway’s new inflight magazine-Smile and contributor for Manila Bulletin’s Travel Section and The Business Mirror. He still travels extensively around the country and hopes to finish his first travel book on off beat destinations in the Philippines soon.
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