A Butterfly Town Fiesta

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.

Butterfly Sanctuary

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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  • ruaje

    marinduque,the heartof the philippines,is really bountiful in termsof its beautiful sceneries as well as people. I really enjoy watching the moriones festival. Also captured my hearrt are the beautiful butterflies. Such a nice place to relax and be free from stress

  • jonathan

    Maganda talaga sa Marinduque! The place where you can relax and enjoy all the time with lots of experience that you can not forget for a lifetime!..souvenir items and lots of foods na pambihira dahil sa sarap.

  • lenne

    sana you could feature more info about the province of marinduque… its fiestas / festival / tourist destination. thanks.

  • Neri

    There’s no place like home in my native town of Gasan which I considered, the most beautiful one in Marinduque due to its awesome geographical landscape, warm people and native foodstuff like, saludsod, niyubak, kagang, nami. . .etc.

  • rey

    Marinduque is the place where i grew up..i am very proud to be a Marinduquenos! marinduque is a very nice and beautiful place with friendly people.

  • rich

    Marinduque is the place where i grew up..i am very proud to be a Marinduquenos! infact, during my college, i used to research about butterflies because i used it in the thesis entitled “A Proposed Marinduque Eco-Tourism Butterfly Theme Park”..i had also wisphered my wish to a butterfly and beleive it or not, it came true.. Kudos, Marinduque!

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  • biboy

    All towns in the Philippines celebrate their own fiestas much like how Gasan, Marinduque celebrate theirs. I have been bitten by the travel bug and have been doing a lot of traveling. There is a website which has helped me a lot – http://www.hoparound.net. It gives you an excellent listing of fiestas, where and when it is held. What’s great is that you will also see a list of micro tourism service providers per location. So you can plan your trip to the fiesta you want to visit and arrange for the services you would need during your stay even before your leave your place by using the internet.

  • cool blog!

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  • Rico

    I was there Holy Week 2006 and I really enjoyed my stay. Aside from the Morions, Marinduque is also known to have lots of butterfly farms, I asked the locals which one is the best and most of them recommended WHS Butterfly farm (website: http://www.marinduque-butterfly.com) which is located in Baranggay Pangi in the town of Gasan. It has a big butterfly house, with lots of different kinds of butterflies,a souvenir shop, pretty flower garden plus lots of fruit trees around the 1 hectare farm. I even got a fresh young coconut “buko” for free after the tour.

  • Russel Pielago

    Indeed,marinduque is a very nice and beautiful place with friendly people.

  • mila

    i,m proud to be borned in the wonderful province(island) of marinduque “butterfly capital of the philippines” and the famous “moriones festival”. If i’m not mistaken, butterfly flies not only in the town of gasan but also in the neighboring towns; boac is one of them, my home town. i’m proud to bring out of the country some of the beautiful handicraft products of marinduque,and the butterfly. i’m based here in italy and every year i come back home with friends.
    thank you……….

  • Indeed a wonderful place. Marinduque is not so far away from Manila and worth a visit.
    The 3 islands on the picture are Melchor, Gaspar and Balthazar. You can hire a boat from a fisherman who will bring you to those islands for a small fee.
    Gaspar has its own “Summer Festival”. A day and night island Easter celebration during Holy week.

    Also worth to mention are the “flagellantes” in Gasan’s old cemetery during Good Friday and of course the Moriones during the Holly Week celebrations.