The Philippines overflows with exquisite natural wonders. We have islands abundant in plant and animal diversity, countless beaches with fine sand, and majestic mountains that grace the majority of our provinces. Unfortunately, we’re also among the most calamity-prone countries in the world.
While being along the typhoon belt serves as a huge reason as to why we often face inevitable natural disasters, there are also other controllable factors we frequently overlook. According to the World Bank Group, among these factors are overpopulation, unplanned urbanisation, and environmental deterioration.
Sad as this may seem, some of the most disaster-prone areas in the Philippines remain breathtaking despite having gone through overwhelming calamities.
Home of the famous Taal Volcano, coastal tourist centre Nasugbu, and the majority of the world’s coral reef species, Batangas has earned itself the title, “The Land of the Rolling Hills and Wide Shorelands” over the years. Its cool climate, beautiful beaches, and thrilling diving spots also contribute to the notability of this Southern Luzon wonder.
But, did you know that Batangas landed in the top ten most at-risk places in the world?
Back in 2015, Verisk Maplecroft assessed over a thousand cities across the globe and ranked them according to their exposure to natural disasters. Eight out of ten cities belonged to the Philippines, and in seventh place was Batangas.
If you closely follow the news, you’d probably realize that Batangas was an earthquake swarm in 2017. From April to August, the province suffered from three powerful earthquakes with magnitudes ranging from 5.5 to 6.3. These earthquakes damaged several establishments including the Taal Basilica, known to be the largest Roman Catholic Church in Asia.
Because the province has not yet gained too much tourist attention, Sulu has some of the most pristine and uncrowded beach areas in the Philippines. Not only are its seas easy on the eyes, its reefs are also vibrant and untouched. Various species of fish enjoy their homes as Sulu’s healthy marine life has not been harmed by irresponsible travellers. Clean turquoise waters and white sandy coasts will continuously amaze you as you walk through the archipelago. The mountains of Jolo hug the island, especially as the sun grandly rises from the background.
Yet, the waters aren’t always calm in Sulu. The Center for Environmental Geomatics – Manila Observatory said that the province has the highest risk for tsunamis and the second highest risk for volcanic eruptions in the Philippines. The most infamous natural disaster that hit the province may be the 1976 Moro Gulf disaster. With an 8.0 magnitude, the earthquake and the massive tsunami that followed killed over 8,000 people including residents of Sulu.
Thankfully, no disaster has been huge enough to follow the menacing aftermath of the 1976 Moro Gulf disaster. But, Sulu continues to face threatening calamities until this day. In 2016, heavy rains and big waves disturbed the peace of around 250 people living in Jolo. The next year, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake hit the province. The latest calamity led more than 30,000 residents to evacuate from their homes as a huge fire consumed thousands of houses in three barangays in the province.
Who wouldn’t know about the Banaue Rice Terraces? Apparently as amazing its feat as being hailed the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” this 2,000-year-old spectacle also recently made a cameo in the superhero film Avengers: Infinity Wars. Nearby, you’ll see the Batad Rice Terraces, a less known but equally (if not more) beautiful carving in the mountains of Ifugao.
Many tourists flock to our beaches, but most Filipinos know that some of our gems lay up on the mountains. Ifugao, a landlocked province in the North, prides in being this treasure. Aside from its awe-inspiring rice terraces, the province also bears the icy Tappiya Falls, the culturally rich Tam-An native village, the historical Philippine War Memorial Shrine, and so on.
However hidden this province may be from urbanisation, it still cannot escape nature’s wrath. The Center for Environmental Geomatics – Manila Observatory named Ifugao as the most landslide-prone area in the Philippines. The province has seen incalculable casualties that were brought about by these landslide incidents.
The picture of Leyte can be drawn through several features: the longest bridge in the Philippines (San Juanico Bridge), the geothermal electric power plants, the Tinikling dance, even the bloody scenes of World War II, and General Douglas MacArthur. Natural wonders also fill the place, so much so that Imelda Marcos decided to rename one of its lakes, Lake Danao, after her. Sambawan Island and the Tangkaan Beach also stun those who visit Leyte.
Today, Leyte is also marked as the place that survived Super Typhoon Yolanda in 2013. It was a Friday when the fury of Yolanda hit Leyte, killed an estimated 10,000 people, and destroyed around 80% of everything that was in its path. The disaster washed ashore the MV Eva Jocelyn ship that has now become a tourist attraction in the province.
A more recent calamity Leyte suffered from was the 6.5 magnitude earthquake in 2017 which killed at least four people and injured a hundred more. It also caused hundreds of millions worth of damage to the province. Yet, Leyte copes through their tourism industry, which has reportedly helped stabilise the province’s economy even after the destruction.
Camiguin has it all: beaches, mountains, springs, waterfalls, islands, and most abundantly, volcanoes. In fact, Camiguin does not only have volcanoes. Most people believe that volcanoes created this province in the Southern Philippines; thus, its nickname, “Island Born of Fire.”
Mount Hibok-Hibok is currently the only active volcano in the province, but Camiguin has six more volcanoes including Mount Timpoong, Mount Butay, and Mount Guinsiliban. Various tourist sites also grace the province. Here, you’ll see the Old Catarman (Gui-ob) Church Ruins, which shows fragments of an ancient church reminiscent of the earthquake that wiped out the village in 1871. The Sunken Cemetery, which sunk during the 1871 volcanic holocaust, will also fascinate you.
Indeed, there is a certain beauty in destruction. Camiguin ranks the most prone to volcanic eruptions in the Philippines, yet the sites adorn the province with mystifying charm.
6. Surigao del Sur
Down the eastern coast of Mindanao lies Surigao del Sur, a paradise unknown to most of us. Some go as far as calling it the “Shangri-La in the Pacific,” which implies that the province resembles a Filipino version of utopia. The glorious spill of the Tinuy-an Falls in Bislig, the serene sandbars of the Britania Islands, and the magic of the Enchanted River in Hinatuan may all contribute to the astounding reputation of the province.
Of course, like any other place, Surigao del Sur falls far from perfect. In reality, it’s also an earthquake centre, ranking first in the list of earthquake-prone places in the Philippines. In 2017 alone, a magnitude 6.7 earthquake led to eight deaths, 202 injuries, and damage costing more than ₱665,000,000.
While the mountains and the seas of Batanes have always been captivating, social media has helped draw even more attention to the province than it already has the previous years. Sabtang, Batan, and Itbayat all have picturesque landscapes that will make you nothing short of breathless. The cerulean seas provide an astonishing contrast to the coasts that are as pure as can be and to the hills and mountains that are unbelievably green.
Batanes is a wonder, no doubt about that. Its allure imposes even bigger pressure for it to be guarded with utmost care, especially since tsunamis and volcanic eruptions threaten its peace. In 2016, Typhoon Ferdie hit the Philippines and damaged ₱225,000,000 worth of crops and infrastructure, most of which were of Batanes. Residents compared it to the rage of Typhoon Neneng, then the last typhoon that had severely damaged the province since 1987.
Fortunately, there were no casualties during this storm. The provincial government was reported to be prepared for the calamity despite not experiencing strong typhoons for more than a decade. Until now, tropical storms still threaten Batanes, and the provincial government still tries its best to be ready should another natural disaster come its way.
Strolling through Legazpi Boulevard, swimming with the Donsol whale sharks, showering in the Vera Falls, and marvelling around the Cagsawa Ruins are just a few of the activities tourists look forward to when travelling to Albay. Still, Mount Mayon holds the spotlight in the province.
Mount Mayon’s perfect cone shape makes it remarkable, but this grand volcano also makes the province highly prone to volcanic eruptions. In early 2018, thousands of Albay residents fled from their homes in anticipation of the explosion of Mayon Volcano. That eruption alone led to a damage of more than a hundred million pesos worth of agriculture. Over the last 500 years, Albay has witnessed its centerpiece erupt around 50 times, killing residents and tourists alike. Yet, the volcano remains steadfast in its grandeur, and with this, the town continues to be admired worldwide.
People applaud Pampanga for its many of its attributes: its flavourful cuisines, its clean roads, its world-class attractions, and its enjoyable activities. Most tourists crowd the place every February for the Hot Air Balloon Festival. Others prefer to have their peace and quiet in one of Clark’s excellent resorts.
Imagining a fun-filled weekend in Pampanga may make the place seem unlikely to be calamity-prone. But, the province actually landed in fifth place as the world’s most at-risk cities in 2016. While Pampanga doesn’t exactly sit on a fault line, trigger areas surround it. Being a coastal area, some experts expect it to turn into a catchment of water if ever the “Big One” comes. Luckily, the province has been reportedly anticipating great natural disasters. Residents equip themselves in preperation for earthquakes and tsunamis should they occur.
One of the provinces Filipinos love touring foreigners around in is Bohol. It’s safe to say that the island province is a predictable choice. More than the world-renowned Chocolate Hills, Bohol acts as a haven for beach bums and adrenaline junkies. Panglao Island has astonishingly secluded beaches and falls, Alona Beach offers diving and snorkeling, and the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary houses the province’s small native primates.
The pride of Bohol sometimes makes us forget that it, too, can’t escape calamities. A case in point: the 2013 Bohol earthquake which damaged at least ₱2.2 billion-worth of establishments and structures, including Spanish-era churches. Worse, the earthquake killed over 200 and injured around a thousand people. To date, it’s known as the deadliest earthquake since the 1990 Luzon earthquake.
Maintaining a nation remains a collective responsibility, but it’s also good to remember that we can make changes individually. Are we sensible travellers? Can we be more conscious of our trash as we travel? Do we actively take steps in making sure that our provinces are well-maintained and our cities are properly developed?
We often wear our resilience as a badge of honour, but we can do more than smile through disasters. We must be aware of what we can actually do to protect the beauty of our homeland. As we sing in the Philippine National Anthem, our country is a beautiful land of love and of light, and it’s on us to keep it that way.