We recently had a visitor from Sibuyan Island, located near the Philippine province of Romblon.
The small island has not one but two mountains, both covered in lush forests. A river so clear that you could see pebbles ten feet below the surface. Hundreds of species of trees and plants. Bats, mammals, fish, birds. It’s hard to keep accurate counts, since biologists keep stumbling on new species.
Unfortunately, the island is also rich in minerals like iron and nickel. And since the passage of the Mining Act of 1995, foreign-owned mining corporations have been hard at work turning the “Galapagos of Asia” to a wasteland.
But Sibuyan has two things going for it. First, said our visitor, residents love their island. They are challenging the mining corporations, seeking legal blocks to the extraction, protesting the environmental damage. And they do so at great risk to themselves. Armin Marin, an engineer and lifelong Sibuyan resident, was killed because of this fight.
And second,as everyone in Romblon knows, Sibuyan Island is enchanted.
Residents know that the spirits of the forests and mountains, the rivers and trees, only request respect from humans. Years ago, a riverside bar/ restaurant was engulfed by the river. Sibuyan was not to become like touristy Boracay.
Today, Sibuyan residents say they hear the mountain spirits wail as the forests are felled, as the earth is eviscerated.
Mineworkers are talking too. Visitors report seeing a woman in white strolling by the Catingas River, while their other companions see nothing. They hear stories of vessels running aground after following a ship named the MV Sibuyan to what they thought was a safe dock. But locals insist there is no ship by that name. Bulldozers left in forest clearings overnight did not run come morning. Some machines were even swallowed up by the earth.
Perhaps there are more earth-bound explanations for buried bulldozers and the weeping heard from the mountainsides. Perhaps these beings—human and spirit—have been galvanized by Armin Marin’s courage and by the growing threats foisted on Sibuyan by mining, tourism, and other so-called forms of “development.”
And perhaps it’s time to see Sibuyan as its residents see it. Not as a cache of minerals but as a living island of mountains, forests, fauna. Enchanted.