The province of Palawan is located on the western side of the Philippines, bound by the South China Sea on the west and the Sulu Sea on the east. The province is composed of 1,780 islands and islets, divided into mainland Palawan Island, the Calamian Island Group (northwest of mainland Palawan), the Cuyo Island Group (northeast), Balabac Island Group (south), and the Kalayaan Island Group (southwest). Palaweños speak Cuyunon and Tagalog, as well as English. The provincial capital is Puerto Princesa City, located on the eastern side of Palawan Island.
Palawan’s population reached 682,152 in 2007, composed of approximately 57 ethno-linguistic groups with three indigenous groups: the Tagbanua, the Palaw’an, and the Bataks. About 30% of the population lives in Puerto Princesa City. The biggest industries are agriculture and fisheries, though tourism, onshore and offshore mining (metals and natural gas, respectively), gathering of minor forest products, and pearl farming are also major industries.
The name “Palawan” is believed to originate from the Chinese words “Pa Lao Yu”, or “The Land of Beautiful Safe Harbor” or the Spanish word “paraguas”, or “umbrella” (in this case, the shape of a closed umbrella).
The Tabon Caves complex in Quezon, Palawan served as home to the oldest human remains found in the Philippines. The 47,000 year-old male tibia bone and 16,000 year-old female skull cap unearthed in 1962 earned the caves the title of “The Cradle of Philippine Civilization”.
Palawan was populated in three distinct waves: the Aetas, followed by the Indonesians (the ancestors of the Tagbanua), then the Malays, arriving via the land bridges that once connected Balabac to Borneo. The natives of Palawan were already trading with the Chinese long before the “discovery” of the Philippines by Spain.
During the Spanish occupation, Palawan was known as the “Province of Calamianes” with Taytay as the provincial capital. The difficulties in governance and administration caused by the inadequate road and communications systems led to the division of Calamianes into “Castilla” and “Asturias” in 1859. Castilla was composed of Cuyo, Taytay, Calamian, Busuanga, and nearby islands, with Taytay as the capital. Asturias was composed of all the municipalities south of Taytay all the way to Balabac, with Puerto Princesa as the capital.
The Spanish government reorganized Castilla and Asturias in 1862 via royal decree, producing “Calamianes” and “Paragua”. Bacuit (the area now known as El Nido) was added to Calamianes. Taytay was initially retained as the capital of Paragua, but the capital was transferred to Cuyo in 1873. The capital was again transferred in 1905 from Cuyo to Puerto Princesa via Act No. 1363 of the Philippine Commission. The name “Paragua” was also changed to “Palawan”.
HABITATS AND BIODIVERSITY
Palawan is known as the Philippines’ “Last Ecological Frontier” because compared to other regions in the Philippines, Palawan’s terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems are relatively intact. It is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park and the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River Natural Park. The 1,780 islands and islets and their surrounding marine waters are home to 105 of the 475 threatened species in the Philippines. Out of the 105 threatened species, 67 species are Philippine endemics. Out of the 67, 42 species are endemic to Palawan.
Palawan’s terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems are composed of old growth forest, secondary growth tropical rainforest, karst forests (forest over limestone), forest over ultramafic rocks, casuarinas, and beach forest. These support 58 species of terrestrial mammals (with 16 Palawan endemics), 279 species of birds (not including migrants passing through), 69 species of reptiles, 26 species of Philippine endemic amphibians, and 28 species of Philippine endemic freshwater fish.
Palawan’s coastal and marine ecosystems are home to 379 species of reef-building corals, 13 species of seagrasses, and 31 species of mangrove plants. The 31 species of mangrove plants are found over 44,500 hectares of mangrove forests, the highest remaining mangrove cover in the Philippines. Twenty-one species of marine mammals (dolphins, whales, and the dugong) and five species of sea turtles can also be found in Palawan.
Seven areas in Palawan are protected under the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS):
- Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (Cagayancillo)
- Puerto Princesa Subterranean River Natural Park (Puerto Princesa)
- El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area (El Nido)
- Malampaya Sound Protected Landscape and Seascape (Taytay and San Vicente)
- Mt. Mantalingahan Protected Landscape (Bataraza, Brooke’s Point, Sofronio Española, Quezon, and Rizal)
- Rasa Island Widlife Sanctuary (Brgy. Panacan, Narra)
- Calauit Island Game Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary (Calauit, New Busuanga)
Introduction to Palawan (Official website of the Provincial Government of Palawan)
History of Palawan (Official website of the Provincial Government of Palawan)
Palawan Biosphere Reserve Fact Sheet (Palawan Council for Sustainable Development)
National Statistical Coordination Board