Aside from the unique Moriones Lenten Rites, the island province of Marinduque stands out for being the butterfly capital of the Philippines, accounting for 85% of butterfly and pupae exports in the country. According to the National Museum, the Philippines has around 927 butterfly species, with a third of them endemic to the country. In Marinduque, there are about 600 species of butterflies, which are locally called bila-bila in the Marinduqueño dialect of Tagalog.
During our three-day familiarization tour of Marinduque with Department of Tourism – MIMAROPA, arranged by local agency Dream Favor Travel & Tours, we got to learn about butterflies at a butterfly farm and witness the relaunching of the Bila-Bila Festival, which will now be held every May.
Butterfly culture and farming was introduced in the province in the 1960s. Over the decades, it has grown into thriving backyard industry. Marinduque is now the country’s biggest supplier of live butterflies and pupa to collectors and exhibitors in the United States of America, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, Europe and the Middle East. At present, there are 11 butterfly farms operating in the province, which are mostly located in the towns of Boac and Gasan.
One of the butterfly farms tourists can visit to marvel at these colorful winged creatures is MARL Insects & Butterfly Culture (Tel. +63427545380) in Barangay Cawit, Boac. One of the oldest in the province, it was established in 1990 by dedicated and passionate butterfly breeder Mr. Leodegario Layron. They culture butterflies and sell pupae and dried specimens domestically and overseas, particularly in Asia and Europe. Presently, they raise around 18 different species of moths and butterflies.
A caretaker showed us where the cages were the butterflies emerge from their chrysalis, and the finished products like framed specimens. Behind the exhibit area is the butterfly garden enclosed in a fine-meshed net to keep the free-flying insects in. The most impressive insect they raise are mariposa, which despite its local name derived from the Spanish word for butterfly, isn’t a butterfly at all but a moth! The Philippine mariposa is actually the Atlas moth (Attacus atlas), native to the forests of Asia, including the Philippines. With wingspans of up to 24 cm, it is among the largest living lepidopterans, the order which includes butterflies and moths!
To celebrate butterfly farming and conservation, the Tree Farming and Butterfly Propagation Ordinance of 2002 created the Bila-Bila Festival. It also declared the territorial jurisdiction of Boac as a sanctuary for all butterfly species and mandated the preservation of the environment to protect them.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival was held in December to coincide with the town fiesta in honor of Patroness the Immaculate Conception. Unfavorable weather however has repeatedly disrupted the festivities in previous years, so the festival was moved to the dry season at the end of May, starting this year, to coincide with Flores de Mayo, a nationwide devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
This year’s celebration of the Bila-Bila Festival last May 30 featured four contingents representing Marinduque National High School, Marinduque State College, Municipality of Buenavista and Marinduque Alliance of Butterfly Permittees. The performers danced along the streets of Boac, before proceeding to the Moriones Area for the final presentation. The dancers are dressed in colorful costumes inspired by butterflies and flowers. Their performances showcase the life cycle of butterflies and the importance of protecting their environment.
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 provinces oldest hotel is the perfect home base to explore the heritage sites of Boac and the rest of the island. 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.