Monday, October 29, 2012

Braving Basilan

Hello from Basilan!

My mother didn't know that I went to Basilan. In fact, she wasn't aware that her two curious daughters went to this island which is widely known for its volatile security situation. She would have definitely opposed the idea that we would step in this island that has been so notoriously portrayed in the local and international media.  And to spare her unnecessary headaches, we deliberately chose not to let her know about our trip.

But we did survive Basilan. Well, at least Isabela City, its capital.

Basilan, which is a part of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), is a 4th class province in terms of gross provincial income. It is home to three ethnic groups – the Yakans and Tausugs who are predominantly Muslims and the Zamboanguenos who are mostly Christians.  

The daring trio -- Ja, Che and Cha
Along with our friend Janet, Cha and I did a quick side trip to Basilan during our recent backpacking Mindanao adventure. For security reasons, we sought the help of Kuya Daniel, an ex- military man who accompanied us while roaming the streets of Isabela.

A mosque beside  river

A night before the trip, we had a few discussions if we would push through or not. Aside from security issues, we also had to consider time constraints  because we still had to catch our flight from Zamboanga to Manila on the same day we were scheduled to go to Basilan. But after much deliberation, Cha and Ja caved in. They were too game to help me complete my 80 Before 30 challenge.


We left Zamboanga City early morning aboard a fast craft bound for Isabela. After about 45 minutes, we docked in the city port. The sign “Welcome to Isabela City” thrilled me so much! Finally, I made it this far in backpacking Pilipinas, I told myself.

From the port, we immediately hit the road. First impression of the place was that it’s very much the same as other small cities in the country. They even have Jollibee there! But one thing very notable is the huge military presence in the area. Men in camouflage uniforms and military vehicles are a common sight. There are military people inside the church, inside the stores and inside restaurants. They were everywhere. 

But we safely made it through. We were able to visit the Provincial Capitol Building, Santa Isabel Cathedral, the rubber plantation, and we even walked around the city.

I've heard about the white sand beaches there, but we had to pass up since we were already pressed for time. Maybe, someday. 

Sta. Isabel Cathedral
the church guard
inside Sta Isabel Cathedral

Cha and Janet checking out the rubber trees


This, I can say, is one of my most thrilling and daunting adventure yet.   And despite the warnings not to look too flashy with cameras, I still roamed the streets with Nika (my camera) conveniently hanging around my neck -- occasionally taking still photos of some interesting scenes I see along the way. I had to take as much still pictures as I can since it may take a long while before I go back, or possibly not anymore. I also could not help capturing some human interest photos that seemed quite in contrast to how media is portraying this island to the world.

In my quick stop to this out-of-the-tourist-trail island, I have seen two kids gamely posing in front my camera, a family waving us goodbye while aboard a motorcycle and market vendors happily offering their goods to us. They were very much living a normal life -- the kind of life that is not normally picked up by media. And travelling has once again taught me an important lesson:  to never judge a place unless you have actually been there.

But of course, being cautious and careful still apply, especially so in Basilan.

Safe travels, everyone! :)

The provincial capitol building

inside the capitol building
How to get to Basilan:

The easiest way is to take a plane going to Zamboanga City. Major local airlines like Cebu Pacific, Airphil Express and Zest Air have daily flights there.

From Zamboanga City, take a 45 minute fastcraft ride going to Isabela City. Alternative route  is going to Lamitan. 

Daily Schedule of Weesam Express (Fare: P150)

Place of Departure          E.T.D           Place of Arrival             E.T.A
Isabela City                  8:15 am      Zamboanga City             9:00 am     
Zamboanga City            9:30 am      Isabela City                   10:15 am
Isabela City                 10:45 am       Zamboanga City           11:30 am
Zamboanga City           1:15 pm        Isabela City                  1:45 pm
Isabela City                 2:00 pm        Zamboanga City            2:45 pm
Zamboanga City           3:30 pm        Isabela City                   4:15 pm
Isabela City                 4:45 pm         Zamboanga City            5:30 pm

Isabela City port

Basilan trikes

Basilan stilt houses


  1. That was totally unplanned yet fulfilling and exciting! Let's visit farther (Sulu and Tawi-tawi)! :D

    1. According to Donna's husband, may flight ang airphil to Sulu and Cebu Pacific naman to Tawi-tawi. Kapag boat ride, mga 8 hours daw from Zamboanga to Sulu.

    2. basta bek, we'll get there no matter what. hehe :)

  2. Congratulations che for braving Basilan. I'm so proud of you. :))

  3. it's me...ate emz. :))

    1. yeeee! im so glad to hear from you ate emz! i'll prolly be in sorg this month to surf! hope to catch up with you!!! miss you!

    2. i mean next month pala, nov. hehe hope to see you!!! :)

  4. grbe ang tatapang ng mga pinan ko,,conggrats ate che en te cha,,,mis u po hope to see both of u soon

  5. i mean pinsan po hehe kulng ng s heheh!

  6. diane pla tabi ini te che!!!,,;-)

  7. yehey! another blog! i have na the answer to your question che. =))

    1. pls add sa comment box for added info, ja! salamat! muah! :))

  8. Good job! Sa Zamboanga lang muna ako:)

    1. Salamat po! One boatride away na lang ang Basilan sa Zamboanga. Kayang-kaya mo! Safe travels :)

  9. Ang weird ng position nung girl in front sa first picture. Nakasabit ba siya sa side or nakasakay talaga? haha

  10. Subject: Request for Permission to Publish Visual Materials
    Good day!

    This is Carina Merin. I am an Assistant Publications Coordinator from the Cultural Center of the Philippines. As part of CCP's project, we are currently researching for photos to be used in the re-publishing of the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art (EPA 2). We would like to ask for permission to use your photo of theBasilan Provincial Capitol from your website:

    Rest assured that you will be fully credited for your photo.

    If you have further questions, please feel free to e-mail me at: I can also send you a formal request letter via e-mail. Thank you very much and more power!


    Carina Merin
    Visual Researcher
    CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art
    Cultural Center of the Philippines


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