Stories from the Seas: Panampangan Island | Tawi-Tawi

Everyone was silent as our speedboat slices through the calm waters of Celebes Sea. Under the brilliance of a full sun and unmindful of the burnt sense of my golden skin, I savored the eerie stillness cruising over a body of water once known as the most dangerous backwater in the world. What used to be a violent playground of pirate ships committing sea robbery and during the worst of times; the sailing route of Abu Sayyaf militants preying on civilians to kidnap—the waters approaching Panampangan Island is now a picture of unruffled nature haven.

Panampangan Island in Tawi Tawi

Here’s where the story (never) ends

As these seas of Sulu and Celebes word out its intertwining tales of volatility and journey to modern day tranquility, a previously overlooked character takes the stage: Panampangan Island.

Panampangan Island is believed to have the longest sandbar in the Philippines. According to environment and mapping advocate Ervin Malicdem “during low tide, the sandbar extends far out to about three kilometers to its neighboring islet, Basibuli; also in the same reef.”

Panampangan Island in tawi tawi

More than a thousand steps separates its end-to-end tip. I must have tallied a couple of hundreds, enough to fully absorb myself to the fascinating nature that surrounded us that day. Glistening sun or not, nothing stopped me from listening to the whistling of the waves, as I felt the scorching sand granules of Panampangan Island below my bare feet.

Panampangan Island

Other than the mostly coconut trees and random shrubs, the island is almost devoid of permanent structure. Half a kilometer away, rows of stilt houses of the Badjaos erected on the shallow part of the Celebes Sea can be seen. As I walked towards where the edge of the sandbar disappears into the deep, I encountered one of the residents. He gave me a nod while speaking something in Tausug language. I can only smile at him in return.

Potpot Pinili and Celine Murillo

For a few hours, we had a wonderful downtime just lounging around the island. A soothing dip into the water and a feast of a lunch concluded our Panampangan trip.

Panampangan Island

I would have preferred to stay longer but those few hours were enough to give me a reason to debunk the myth of traveling to this part of the Philippines, as a death wish. As the story Panampangan Island goes on, I would never forget the day I listened to it telling me tales filled with serene feels and cloistered ambiance.

Marky Ramone Go jumping in Panampangan Island

As I felt the sole of my feet started to blister from the heat – so does the back of my neck. I put on my shirt and wore my slippers back. And on my one last walk, I set down my camera and took a self-portrait—of me jumping for joy against the fantastic background of Panampangan Island.

Traveling to Tawi-Tawi, Is it Safe?

The province of Tawi-Tawi remains an enigma for most travelers. A tug of war of perception always plays in the mind of people whenever they hear about this place. On the other side of the spectrum; are the reports of brazen kidnappings and insurgency battles with terror groups and on the other side; the cultural and nature wonders made more appealing by the generally friendly nature of the locals.

Badjao houses on stilts in Panampangan Island

If one would believe sensationalized media reports, it would be easy to brand this province as a high security risk. However, if one would actually travel to the province and experience the real situation, a totally different insight will arouse. Look no further than Brillante Mendoza’s film Thy Womb, or read some of the travel narratives written by many Filipino travel bloggers who have explored this province. By being exposed to these other sources it becomes easy to erase the preconceived notion that Tawi-Tawi is a war-torn place.

For now, tourists are encouraged to register at the Tawi-tawi's Provincial Tourism Office in order to be guided properly upon arriving at the island. For travelers coming from Zamboanga City, iTravel Tourist Lane is the most highly recommended tour company.

iTravel Tourist Lane

Mayor Jaldon St., Canelar, Zamboanga City
+63 62 991 1174

This article: Stories from the Seas: Panampangan Island first appeared on the pages of the Daily Tribune