coron, palawn, island, life, philippines, lockdown, coronavirus
Locals after harvesting burot (wild yam). 

Stuck in Paradise: What It’s Like Living on a Philippine Island During Lockdown

"I don’t know if this lockdown is gonna be over but for sure, I will have really nice memories to go back to when I look at the photos and videos I took."

For close to two months now, Terence Angsioco has been waking to the sound of crashing waves and spending nights in a doorless hut in the middle of a secluded beach. While most are stuck in Manila and forced to wait out the coronavirus lockdown in their homes, the 39-year-old escaped to Coron Island, Palawan. He booked his ticket shortly after the quarantine was announced and has since been isolated in a cove with only eight other people. Well, eight people, seven pigs, four cats, three dogs, and three chickens, to be exact.


"I'm on FarmVille," Terence joked. Everyday, he would go down to the camp’s kitchen to charge his laptop, phone, camera, and other electronics using a solar panel that’s just big enough to power a truck battery. This would last for the night, until he has to do it all over again the next day. He’s basically in an episode of Survivor, minus the drama.


Terence's turn to do the daily choirs — squeezing saltwater out of burot (wild yam). The crop is one of the Tagbanwa's staple foods. They place the burot inside a sack and soak in the sea. Then, they squeeze all the saltwater out and sun dry the following day.

He has a stash of groceries and can usually eat freshly caught fish but on more than one occasion, only had rice covered in soy sauce to eat. His survival kit is a medium-sized plastic container with his phone, two power banks, USB fans, a hat, a water bottle, sunglasses, headphones, mosquito repellent, an LED light, a small knife, a pen, a lighter, and a laptop.

Weeks without fresh water showers and catching your own food may not sound appealing to many, but Terence would rather be stuck on the island than his condo in the city. He lives in Poblacion, Manila’s art and nightlife district, and can’t stand being there without the people crowding its streets every weekend.

“When they announced the lockdown, I knew that Poblacion was not going to be the same. It's a community and all the shops will be closed, so that's when I decided, OK, I have to go somewhere.”

So he packed his bags, left his dog with a friend, and flew some 300 km to Palawan. He arrived on Coron Island on March 15, the same day Metro Manila’s lockdown started, for what was supposed to be a one month sojourn. But then the lockdown was extended. Twice. Now he has to stay there until the travel ban lifts on May 15, unless the quarantine is extended again.


“I still want things to go back to semi-normal so that the faster that we can get back to it, the faster we would be able to bounce from it,” Terence said.

He’s worried about the financial toll of the pandemic and the future of his boutique digital design agency, but for someone whose job is on the line, he’s surprisingly unfazed.

"Life is so unfair but that's why you should always put yourself on the good side of it, right?”

He spends his days with members of the Tagbanwa tribe, who own the island and the water surrounding it. Before the pandemic, locals partnered up with the social enterprise Red Carabao, which brought tourists to the island, but with flights cancelled, they’re back to spending most of the day doing chores, spearfishing, and harvesting wild yams.


Locals use bamboo a lot, especially for building their houses and parts of their boats.


Kuya Robert is the main food provider in the family. He goes out to the sea every day after sunset to go spearfishing or collect sea cucumbers. He does not go home empty-handed.


A woman harvesting root crops.

Terence described Tagbanwas as “superhumans,” because they catch their own food, build their own houses, and repair their own boats.

"My goal is to be able to catch my own fish [through] spearfishing,” Terence said. He’s now living like a local, walking around with his own bolo (machete) and growing his nails so long that he can use it to cut open fruits without a knife.


Terence after catching some fish.

He’s also learning to free dive and hike mountains barefoot. But the immersion doesn’t always go so well — he struggles to keep up in their drinking sessions.

“With the Tag OGs! Island lessons: I'm never drinking Gin Bulag again,” he wrote on Instagram after a night of chugging bottles of a local gin that’s so strong, people say it could make you blind. They don’t usually drink a lot but the Tagbanwas were celebrating a new boat. Terence passed out by 6 PM.


Terence now documents his life on the island through photos and videos that he posts on social media. When he feels like it, he even films silly cooking videos.

“I guess, I need it for my, you know, sanity,” he said.

“I don’t know if this lockdown is gonna be over but for sure, I will have really nice memories to go back to when I look at the photos and videos I took.”

He checks in with his team back in Manila but if there’s nothing urgent, he usually just hangs out with the locals most of the day.


One of Terence's work stations.

Every afternoon, members of the tribe take a break from chores and gather together in one of the huts to watch movies through a small portable VCD player. It’s always the same: old Filipino action flicks starring Fernando Poe Jr or comedies with rapper Andrew E. or the trio Tito, Vic, and Joey. Then, they all take a siesta. On the island, almost everything is done as a group.

“With or without the lockdown, they are locked down with each other,” Terence said. “They will always be with each other, they will always share their stories, they will always eat together.”


Young Tagbanwas love using their phones and goofing around.

Terence said he could probably stay there until June and will bring island life with him even after returning to Manila. His extended stay in Coron made him realise just how individualistic life in the city can be.

“No man is an island but that's how we are building our lives in the city," he said, noting that people probably started hoarding before the lockdown because it didn’t occur to them that they have neighbors to run to if they’re short on toilet paper. It’s a realisation that could prove to be crucial for survival in Manila’s new normal.


“The lesson that I wanna take away is like being dependent on someone and someone being dependent on you."

Find more photos from Terence's island life below.


View from the island.


Week-old piglets.


Lolo Undes loves to sing Tagbanwa songs.


Gilbert, the youngest member of the family, in his playground. He goes up the big rock and jumps to the sea.


Tatay Morilio, one of Terence's favourite drinking buddies.

Find Terence on Instagram.
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