Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Poctoy is the official literal center of the Philippine Islands. It is located in Odiongan, Romblon. I always thought Marinduque is the center of the country. I was wrong.

That Poctoy is the midpoint of the republic is a legacy of Spanish colonialism. If Spain didn’t invade these islands, Luzon could have been part of Taiwan or Mindanao a member of the Malaysian Federation. But because of Spanish colonialism, and the subsequent resistance to it, we were able to imagine and build a nation out of these 7, 107 islands.

Another Spanish legacy can be seen in the surnames of Romblon citizens. The most common family names in the province start with letters F, M, G, and R. (I am related to the Fabriquiers of Odiongan).

Romblon is an island province. It has island barangays. It is composed of 20 islands. There are 7 major islands in the province. A banca or motor boat is used by politicians if they are campaigning in the province.

Tablas is the biggest island of the province. Odiongan, the economic and trading center of Romblon, is located in Tablas. Tugdan airport is also in Tablas. It used to be the entry point to Boracay in the 1980s. It is only 30 minutes away from the world-famous island resort. But Caticlan beat Tugdan in the 1990s. An international airport is being built in San Jose Island in Romblon to transport Boracay-bound tourists.

Romblon Island is the political capital of the province. The first-class marble deposits of Romblon are mined on this island. Black marble is found on Alad Island. Sibuyan Island is simply one of the most captivating islands in the country.

Romblon is part of the Southern Tagalog Region – MiMaRoPa. But it used to be part of Region 6 – Western Visayas. It was transferred to the jurisdiction of Region 4 in the 1980s to make regional administrative coordination more efficient. The case of Romblon illustrates the arbitrary classification of provinces and regions in the country. Masbate is officially a Bicol province but it can pass as a province located in Southern Tagalog, Eastern Visayas, Central Visayas or even Western Visayas. Mindoro and Palawan can be described as Visayas provinces.

Romblon is a mineral-rich province; it is blessed with abundant and unique natural resources. The sweetest atis in the country is harvested in Nagoso. This atis variety can’t grow on other soil in other islands.

Romblon is a ‘rich’ province but its people are poor. Romblon is one of the poorest provinces in the country. Is it poor because its size and (voting) population are too small to capture the interest and attention of national politicians and big entrepreneurs? Is it poor because of its remoteness and detachment from the Luzon mainland?

As an island province, Romblon is also dependent on fishing. The province supplies the marine products required by the many restaurants and resorts in nearby Boracay. Imagine the economic impact of the three-month ban imposed on Romblon marine products when the MV Princess of the Stars sank off the coast of Sibuyan in 2008. It destroyed the livelihood of small fisherfolks. It worsened the poverty and hunger incidences in the province.

Marble quarrying is a major economic activity in the province. But marble dollar profits are deposited elsewhere. Decades of marble quarrying didn’t improve the lives of Romblon citizens. Romblon’s experience disproves the national government claim that the Philippines can become a First World nation by aggressively promoting mining exploration in the islands.

Romblon is a microcosm of the Philippines. It is an island paradise. It has charm, mystery, and warmth. But poverty is like a plague that spreads quickly in the islands. It is a beautiful place but why are the people suffering? Is it fate? Curse? Truly, Romblon is a province of contradictions.

Did you know?

1. Manila-Tablas daily flights are available through SEA Air and Zest Air. PAL used to operate in the province but it left due to the financial non-viability of the route.

2. Odiongan comes from the word odiong, which means harrow. Harrow is an agricultural tool.

3. Romblon comes from the word lomlon, an act of a hen nesting to warm her eggs. Again, blame the Spanish colonizers for mistaking the word as the name of the island.

4. There are almost no private schools in Romblon. Meanwhile, majority of schools in nearby Mindoro Island are privately-owned.

5. Asuran is an Asi word which means tulungan.

6. When the Catholic Church abandoned the province, particularly Odiongan, during World War II, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente stayed behind to provide religious service in the islands.

7. According to a local source, marble quarrying has barely scratched the surface of marble deposits in Romblon.

8. There are 46 varieties of cassava in the country. Romblon State University is cultivating 40 varieties. Congratulations to Romblon State University for being recognized as a state university last October.

9. The late great writer and activist Julius Fortuna hails from Odiongan, Romblon.

Related articles:

Nick Joaquin’s Manila
Philippines as pacific island
From Laoag to Laoang

5 Responses to “Journey to the center of the Philippines”

  1. […] examples: Despite being part of Western Visayas, Boracay buys its seafood supply from Romblon, a province of Luzon. Dumaguete is a university town in Negros Oriental but many of its students […]

    Mong Palatino » Blog Archive » ‘Filipinos belong to geography’

  2. as far as i know Barangay Poctoy in Odionagn, Romblon is not the center of the Philippine Archipelago it is the Tablas Island itself which Odiongan is a part of this Island and Poctoy is a Barangay in Odiongan. Tablas Island is composed of 8 Towns (Odiongan, Looc, Sta. Fe, Alcantara, Sta. Maria, San Agustin, Calatrava and San Andres). Odiongan’s name came from a local word “Odiong” which means an arrow not harrow. There is a privately owned HEI’s in Odiongan the Erhard Systems Technological Institute (ESTI).

    John Mark Forcado

  3. […] by the brave stand of Odiongan people in opposing the entry of a mining company in Tablas Island in Romblon. I witnessed the church-labor dialogue in Cebu. I spent a night in a ‘liberated’ farming […]

    Mong Palatino » Blog Archive » Adventure Time

  4. John Forcado is right. It’s an insult to our history and indeed to other people who came from that province and to you yourself since Fabriqueirs are from that place. Fabriqueir may have been derived from Fabriquer. Who knows. I could be wrong. But if it’s true then we are distant cousins. Within the early years of the 18th century, 3 (three) brothers from Panay Island transversed the Carabao Island Channel to find
    their destiny on the northern part of the country. By the swing of the turbulent waters on the area they reached only as far as
    Romblon province and landed on the island of Simara. Their stay in Simara however was short-lived as two of them decided to
    move further to explore more comfort zone on nearby municipalities of the province. The brother’s family name was De La Vega,
    as the story was told. One brother reached Odiongan. The other settled in San Agustin, and the last one opted to stay on the
    island, to be the Patriarch of what are now the Fondevillas of the province.

    On November 21, 1849, the Spanish Governor of the Philippines, by the name of Narciso Claveria Y Zaldua issued a decree
    granting right to every Filipinos to change ones family name sounding ethnic, and be eligible to adopt a more classical name with
    Latino sound and rhythm. The De La Vega brother who went to Odiongan changed his family name to Fabriquer. The one who
    settled in San Agustin, Romblon adopted the name Montesa and the one who opted to stay with the Simaranhon residents used the name

    Best regards

    Ivan Forca Reyes

  5. Hi Ivan. My grandmother’s roots are from Romblon, Romblon. Would you happen to have information about the Morada-Uy clans? Also the Motin, Millares and Mazo clans. I have been trying to trace these branches of my family tree. Thank you. Please let me know how I can contact you.

    Paolo Gonzales

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