AMDG

Although Culion has changed dramatically since its establishment as the ‘worlds biggest leper colony’ according to a history of the island that I am reading, there is still stigma attached to its name. I was told about an inhabitant of the island who recently appeared on one of the Philippines ubiquitous daytime TV shows, when he was asked where he was from he told the presenters that he was from Coron (a nearby island).  ‘Aren’t you from Culion’  the presenter replied puzzled, ‘No Coron’, he lied.   This denial of his origins caused outrage back here on Culion and lead to a stream of text messages threatening him and warning him not to think of returning!  The school here has an excellent street-dancing troupe, and they recently won the regional awards and can compete at a national level.  There success has provoked resentment and one of the proud mums reported that at a recent competition their winning time was heckled as being ‘only an island of lepers’.

Another example of the lingering prejudice is the difficulties the local fisherman experience. All the boats have their place of origin painted on the rear of the boat. San Ignacio is the only boat from Culion that is allowed to moor up in the various moorings on Coron – any other boat registered in Culion has to jostle for a place with outsiders boats.  The stigma of Culion seems also to be a barrier for one of the main strategies for the economic development of the island : ecotourism. The Jesuits have opened a hotel called Hotel Maya  – which by all means seems to be profitable. The idea behind the project is to develop eco-tourism as well as providing training for some of the local students at the Jesuit College in the tourist industry. The Hotel is even getting a listing in the next Lonely Planet, and are attracting foreigners already.  The difficulty is attracting visitors from Manila, Cebu or Davo, where the name Culion still has a stigma.

However when you walk around the island you get a sense of prosperity. There are many new motorbikes sitting proudly on the roadside, the shops are very well stocked, the island co-operative which is administered by the Jesuits always has people inside.  It is certainly true that the ‘stigma’ of Culion has also been profitable.  Money has been generously donated by NGO’s from Spain, Japan, Austria, Germany.  This has had a dual effect though – as well as prosperity and the many projects started up, I have been told that there may also be a ‘dependency culture’, or even as one local suggested a sense of entitlement. Obviously, being here for a short time it is difficult to see that myself, although reading the diaries of a previous parish priest there is certainly a lot of anecdotal evidence.

Meanwhile I am just enjoying every minute in this little piece of paradise. Beauty all around – the nature – the people.  At one of my masses to day – in a remote village – everyone bar one of the 40-odd congregation were women!  The catechist – Kiboy – came up to me with a big grin on his face to tell me when we arrived that they said I reminded them of James Bond…… it makes a difference as usually I get Mr Bean!!  (Maybe they were getting me confused with Johnny English who is very popular here!)  Next week I have an intense schedule of ash weds masses (beginning on monday and ending on friday).  By Boat – Jeep and Foot.  The day and time are very flexible out here!!