Palawan, my home | Inquirer Opinion
Young Blood

Palawan, my home

/ 05:03 AM August 12, 2021

The charm of telling people where I live never gets old. Home for me is Puerto Princesa, Palawan—tagged as the city within a forest, the country’s last ecological frontier, and Travel + Leisure’s “Best Island In The World” for 2020.

It’s the kind of place where it’s easy to assume that isolation is part of our local culture, since we’re literally separated from the country’s major regions. But over the course of this pandemic, with its series of lockdowns and restrictions and the threat of COVID-19, “isolation” took on a whole different sense. Public spaces were avoided, work and school were shifted online, face masks and face shields became mandatory, hugs, handshakes, and “mano po” were waived, elders stayed at home, and we young ones suddenly became “tributes” for supply runs and other essentials—these became the new normal. It was weird, unnerving even. As COVID-19 slowly spread across the country, everything slowed down with it.

We all found different ways to cope. Considering that I had more time on my hands, I was determined to make the most of it. Thus, in the past months, I explored as much of Palawan as I could.


It was surreal—there was no other way to describe the experience. I walked on “thin places”—spaces where, as the Celtics believed, the distance between heaven and earth collapses, and we’re able to experience or even catch glimpses of the divine, its energy felt with every movement. Slowly but surely, I developed a deep sense of gratitude and smallness, in awe of the grandness that only nature could offer.


But I also realized that nature, in reality, is incredibly fragile.

Traces of trash in beaches and forests, vandalized rock formations, signs of trees felled down: Everywhere I went, there was evidence of humans exploiting nature. Once, I saw a girl walking an otter on a leash in a coastal area in southern Palawan. I was told that they were able to buy this “pet” cheaply from a local dealer. Sure, it was cute and cuddly, but it was also illegal.

I mentioned this incident to a friend who worked with the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development, a body in charge of the province’s Strategic Environment Plan. But when he asked for proof, I was at a loss. Not only had taking pictures of the otter slipped my mind, I also realized that my inaction possibly contributed to a system that further exploited wildlife. Palawan otters, I learned, were recently classified as a critically endangered species. In fact, these animals are just one of many species of wildlife that are illegally sold on the global market.

Palawan is a cradle of biodiversity, serving as a refuge to hundreds of threatened marine and terrestrial species. From the world’s most poached mammal (pangolin) to the world’s most aggressive and critically endangered crocodiles—Palawan is home to all of them. As such, it has become a haven for illegal wildlife traffickers. Still, the sizable portion of local animals being illegally traded is, in reality, just a fraction of the industry’s estimated P50-billion annual profit.

In the midst of learning all this, I remembered that while the origin of this pandemic still remains uncertain, a significant body of evidence strongly links the early spread of COVID-19 to a wet market in Wuhan, China, known for selling various wild animals used in traditional medicine and cooking.

COVID-19 is a wake-up call. At its core, it is a result of the direct collision between human and natural systems. The pandemic has shown us that the health crisis, the climate crisis, and the ecological crisis are linked, as animal health, human health, and environmental health are all interlinked. Yet, we still fail to see the connections between them. Most of us never really care that much to look away from our phone screens to see the bigger picture. The way we have treated and abused nature and animals has created the perfect breeding ground for new diseases to surface.


They say that the next pandemic could be potentially worse. Hopefully, we can work to prevent that.

As we coexist with other living things in this world, we are inevitably part of the system we have to protect. Like all things, we, too, are part of nature.

Why am I grateful to consider Palawan my home? I appreciate seeing the blazing colors of the sunset beneath the trees. I appreciate the sight of rich marine life visible to the naked eye. I find comfort that the place I call home is also home to other beings of nature.

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Katrina Lucena, 26, was born and raised in Palawan. She is a working law student who likes to go outdoors and visit cafés in her free time.

TAGS: palawan, Young Blood

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