Marinduque, the island province just south of the Luzon mainland, is best known for its lively Lenten events and traditions like the Moriones, where townsfolk dress up as masked Roman centurions. It is also regarded as the butterfly capital of the country. It’s my favorite Holy Week destination in the Philippines, and I’ve spent the Roman Catholic holiday there twice before. As a matter of fact, Marinduque was the first province I visited when I started backpacking 15 years ago, as documented in one of my first blog entries accompanied by lomographs.
I recently joined a familiarization trip with the Department of Tourism – MIMAROPA to see what the province has to offer for the rest of the year, and the first place we explored was the the provincial capital of Boac, where we visited their heritage sites and experienced the traditional way they welcome guests.
As a colonial settlement, Boac was established in 1580 as a visita called Monserrat de Marinduque by Spanish colonizers, who described the native people as pintados or tattooed people, resembling those of the Camarines provinces and the Visayan islands. The provincial capital takes its name from the Cebuano word búàk, meaning “to break”, in reference to how the Boac River bisects the town. Other sources say it is derived from the Tagalog word búlwak, meaning “to gush”, referring to the water exiting the mouth of the said waterway.
There are a handful of heritage sites you can see around town, which is compact enough to be explored on foot. Several bahay na bato, the two-storey townhomes of the middle and upper class during colonial times, can be found in the town center. They’re especially photogenic in the early morning before 9am, when establishments haven’t opened, and parked vehicles do not clog the narrow streets.
One can start their heritage walk at the Boac Cathedral, formally the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, the most imposing heritage structure sitting on a hill overlooking the town and Boac River. Built in 1792, the cathedral compound is surrounded by defensive stone walls, as the structure also served as refuge when the town was attacked by Moro raiders from Mindanao.
Oral tradition has it that during one of these invasions the Virgin Mary suddenly appeared with outstretched hands and drove away the intruders. The miraculous event led to the devotion to the Virgin Mary as Mahal na Birhen ng Biglang Awa (Our Lady of Prompt Succor), whose venerated image is housed in a separate contemporary shrine next to the cathedral.
National Museum – Marinduque-Romblon Area
From the cathedral, it’s a few minutes walk to the local branch of the National Museum of the Philippines, next to the Boac Plaza. The National Museum – Marinduque-Romblon Area Museum is housed in a tile-roofed Spanish-era building, which was originally the Escuela de Niños – the oldest Roman Catholic school in Marinduque. Later on, it served many purposes as a prison, trial court, government office, and public library before it was turned over to the National Museum in 1992.
The museum features three permanent exhibitions on the Philippine Rise, Marinduque shipwrecks, and Moryonan art and traditions. The most precious artifact on display is the Marinduque Celadon Jar, which was acquired by National Museum Assistant Director Alfredo Evangelista in 1965. While the provenance of the ancient Chinese stoneware remains a mystery, it has been dated to the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368). Decorated with four embossed dragons, it is reputedly one of only three of its kind in the world, and declared a National Cultural Treasure in 2010. This prized stoneware returned to Marinduque only last year, and was transferred to the local museum on February 21, 2022.
Numerous ancestral houses still stand across the town center of Boac. In 1912, a great fire gutted several homes in poblacion, so most of the old houses we see today were built after that tragic event. More than a century later, history repeated itself when eight heritage houses were completely destroyed by fire in 2018, including Maharlikang Tahanan ni Kapitan Piroco (Don Piroco Mansion), the historic residence where Marinduqueños requested that their island become a separate province from Tayabas (now Quezon Province).
A standout feature of Boac’s old houses are the wraparound media aguas or window canopies, supported by long wooden braces, which reminded me of the wooden sticks used to prop up windows of the bahay kubo, the vernacular stilt house from which bahay na bato evolved from. Nearly all of the heritage houses in town remain as private residences, so tourists can usually only admire them from the outside.
With a special arrangement from the tourism office, our group was able to tour the inside of the Navarro Heritage House, located at 1 de Novembre and Nepomuceno Sts (Boac-Gasan-Torrijos Rd), where we got to admire the large sala or living room on the second floor and its large capiz shell windows, which characterize bahay na bato across the country.
The only heritage house which an be visited without prior permission would be the Don Emilio Lardizabal Heritage House, which has been renovated into a cafe on the ground floor and a Filipino restaurant called Casa de Don Emilio on its second level. The restaurant, located near the Boac Plaza, serves Filipino and Western comfort food, as well Marinduqueño dishes like ulang-ulang (crayfish soup), kinagang (native land crab cooked in coconut milk), and kari-kari (pork blood dish similar to dinuguan, not to be confused with peanut-based stew kare-kare). For more local food recommendations, check out my list of 12 must-try Marinduqueño delicacies!
After our heritage walk, we returned to our vans to proceed to the Marinduque Provincial Capitol, a neoclassical government building built in 1927. Here, we were formally welcomed with a putong, a festive reception ceremony indigenous to Marinduque. Our group was ushered in to our seats, then the mamumutong, men and women dressed in barong and baro, sang folk songs and danced accompanied by guitar. wishing us good health and a blessed path in life.
Putong means “to crown”, referring to the finale of the ritual where honorees are showered with flowers and coins and crowned traditionally with paper or tinfoil crowns. Contemporary putong now often use sturdier crowns handwoven from nito (a native vine) like the ones presented to us. It was a lovely and joyous way to start our exploration of Marinduque!
How to Get There
From Metro Manila, take a bus to Dalahican Port in Lucena City, where Starhorse Shipping Lines and Montenegro Shipping Lines runs frequent ro-ro ferries to Balanacan Port on Marinduque island. Travel time takes around three hours. From Balanacan Port, public jeepneys await to take travelers to Boac town, 15 km away.
Where to Stay
The Boac Hotel is a heritage inn founded in 1967, located across the Boac Cathedral. The province’s oldest hotel is a convenient place to stay for heritage walks around the provincial capital. The ground-floor restaurant Cafe Ma Mita serves the best-tasting kari-kari, while their pasalubong shop offers local delicacies like premium uraro (arrowroot cookies) from Rejano’s Bakery that melts in your mouth! Find discounted rooms and check availability here.
If you prefer a fancier place to stay, check out Balar Hotel & Spa, where our entire group was accommodated during the entire three-day tour. It’s a short ride out of the town center, 5 km south, but this accommodation offers newer rooms with stylish contemporary interiors. Find discounted rooms and check availability here.