A fisherman told me to snorkel past the village jetty to admire an extensive growth of coral that he said looks like “big plates”. The table coral was more impressive than described, descending towards the drop-off like the undersea counterpart of Balinese rice terraces. I float across the vibrant reef. Posses of purple-eyed cardinalfish peered from their underwater patios, while countless blue-green chromis zigzagged through their refuge of labyrinthine tree-like coral. Now and then, a shy Moorish idol or butter-colored butterflyfish would grace the remarkable scenery with its striped elegance, before ducking behind a bulbous head of coral.
Snorkeling at Marungas Beach
The buzzing sound of a passing jungkung – the local wooden-hulled boat – prompted me to surface. I removed my mask and snorkel, treading in calm, turquoise water. A white-sand beach lay before me, stretching away along a row of coconut trees from an abandoned hut on stilts that leaned in submission to the sea. This beach wouldn’t be out of place in Palawan or Bohol, until I noticed a man in military fatigues, armed with an M-16, watching over me from the hut’s doorway. A small, pale yellow mosque beneath the coconuts called out afternoon prayers. I then recalled that this is not simply another tropical holiday in the Philippines. I was in Sulu – the archipelagic province that stretches halfway between Mindanao and Borneo – accompanied by four Marine escorts to ensure my safety in the islands of Hadji Panglima Tahil, 20-minutes by boat from the provincial capital of Jolo.
Ramos Beach and Sitio Likud
In comparison to the rest of the province, the smaller islands of Hadji Panglima Tahil – especially Marungas Island – have the biggest tourism potential, owing to its proximity to the capital town of Jolo, which is served by flights and overnight ferries from Zamboanga City. As seen from the right side of the plane as it descends to Jolo Airport, the atoll-like islands are ringed with beaches and covered with saltwater marshes and lagoons in the middle. Besides Bangas Beach in the town center where I snorkeled, a short walk to the west coast of Marungas Island will take you to small crescent of sand called Ramos Beach, named after former President Fidel V. Ramos who once visited the island for scuba diving.
Aside from its white sand beaches and coral reefs, Marungas Island offers a look into the daily lives of the native Tausug and Badjao peoples. The villagers build their homes on stilts at the edge of the islands over tidal flats and sandbanks. Rickety footbridges link the communities together, and with the hilly terra firma that punctuate the islands. Most notably, the stilted walkway connecting the hamlet of Sitio Likud to the town center of Bangas on Marungas Island is a whopping 800 meters long – that’s more than twice the length of what is dubbed “the longest wooden footbridge in the country” in Surigao del Norte.
Special thanks to the Philippine Marine Corps for providing our tours, security and accommodations during our five-day visit to Sulu province, especially to the 2nd, 6th and 9th battalions stationed in Talipao, Patikul and Indanan, respectively.
Due to socio-political unrest, armed conflict and kidnappings in some areas in Sulu, all travelers are required to seek the assistance from the provincial tourism office beforehand for their safety and security. Exploring the province safely and responsibly entails being escorted by the military. For more information, contact provincial tourism officer, Ms. Jainab Abdulmajid at +63 9175929225 or email@example.com.
HOW TO GET THERE
Philippine Airlines flies three times a week to Jolo from Zamboanga City. Flight time is only 35 minutes. Visit www.philippineairlines.com. Alternatively, Aleson Shipping Lines runs ten-hour overnight ferry trips also from Zamboanga City. From Jolo, the town center of Marungas Island can be reached by bangka (outrigger boat) in 20 minutes.
I love it.. I was shocked and proud. At least being you seen the beauty paradise of marunggas island and known as Banggas and beautiful Ramos beach mush so better the blueish and greenish sea and perfect form of Corals from different sizes and of course the fishes and many other sea creature !!
I hope one of this days you can visit the marunggas again. More power and blessed you.!! Mabuhay❤
I had been there three years ago it was so amazing, and soon this may i have plan to join the reunion held in n=banggas islands i am so exited ..yahooo
So nice to see this heaven. I’m looking forward to visit this place once quarantine has been lifted. Sulu is where my parents and ancestors came from and I’m just so proud to see that our small island (and the whole archipelago) are gaining more and more local tourists for the past few years. Masha Allah.
Hi Mr. Alan Zeta-Yap, I’am a silent follower of your blogs I’m a aspiring traveler and photographer I love taking photos of our nature and beautiful views I also enjoyed exploring new and different places and because of you I’m inspired and motivated for my future travels.
Thank you for your kind words! Apologies for the late response as I haven’t been updating my blog since the pandemic started. Hope you’re staying safe and healthy, and good luck with your photography. =)