Thursday, November 11, 2010

Why Marinduque is the Center of the Philippines

(Heart-shaped island of Marinduque)

“Heart-shaped” has long been used in local folklore to romanticize the island of Marinduque because as the island map will show, it does reveal the outline of an imperfect heart. That was enough to inspire early students of the old Marinduque High School, the first secondary school in the province, to adopt “The Heart” as the name of their official school organ, followed until today.

“The Heart of the Philippines” as a tourism slogan was, therefore, also a natural choice by travel writers for the same reason. In a 1995 brochure this blogger was commissioned by then governor Bong Carrion to draft the text of brochure for distribution in connection with the Moriones Festival and there used the phrase "smack center of the Philippine archipelago".

I was dismayed to later find that at least two other provinces, namely, Romblon and Masbate were using the term “center of the Philippines” in describing the geographical location of said provinces and for purposes of touristic distinction, obviously so vital in promoting a destination. One of the two had become more aggressive in repeated claims as evidenced by glossy travel brochures that I had gotten hold of.

And that was a ‘puzzlement’. But, thanks to the Internet information highway, it became fairly easy to have access to data that could shed light on the matter and settle the issue once and for all. So it surfaced by surfing on the net that in 1901, when the Philippines was under American rule, the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (USC&GS), started the process of identifying specific points in the ellipsoid, the mathematical model of the distance and shape of the earth, through the use of latitude and longitude. A painstaking process, called datum, that identified specific geodetic points in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao was then undertaken by USC&GS.

(Seascape view from Datum Station Balanacan)

It also surfaced, that the vastness of land and sea from Luzon to Mindanao became such a tough and ambitious challenge for the geodetic engineers. This necessitated the identification of a new datum to serve as the origin of all surveys. The formed triangulation network spanned vast distances with datum stations that were located in high mountain peaks and far across straits and channels.

(Hole drilled on diorite rock that had been there for a hundred years)

The result of trigonometric surveys from North to South and East and West of the Philippine Archipelago were consolidated until a single datum was pinpointed – the Luzon Datum of 1911, the primary geodetic reference of all surveys in the country. The origin of this particular Datum was then defined by Datum Station Balanacan located 13°33'41"N, 121°52'3"E. Consequently, all surveys in the entire country were corrected and based on the position of this station.

(Reference marker on one cubic meter of boulder)

A boulder of a rock marker, long forgotten and hidden in a snake-infested area on the mountain top of what is locally called Mataas na Bundok near Balanacan harbor was apparently still intact. It is located where the boarders of Brgy. Silangan, Brgy. Argao and Brgy. Hinanggayon nearly meet. A hole appeared to have been drilled in a cubic meter of diorite rock marker, accompanied by a boulder of another rock some 10 feet away that as a reference marker.

“Marinduque: Pinakagitna ng ‘Pinas” by this blogger describing the research find was published in “The Weekly Marinduque” issue of Nov. 19-22, 2007. By June 2008, a technical team from the National Mapping Resource Authority (NAMRIA), and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), had paid a courtesy visit to then governor, Bong Carrion. It was to recognize this mother of all surveys in the Philippines as an important national landmark that had to be preserved.

(NAMRIA and DENR team shows map to Gov. Carrion and briefs him on the plans of the task group)

Task Group Balanacan was created by NAMRIA in the same month to undertake further research and gather available records and maps, undertake coordination meetings with concerned agencies and hold information campaign activities.

(NAMRIA's marker at the site)

The NAMRIA team headed by mapping department assistant director, Randolf Vicente then conducted a reconnaissance survey of the vicinity of the” mother of all surveys” together with the provincial tourism team of Gerry Jamilla and Joven Lilles. Lilles, who took up geodetic engineering was already familiar with the site and had taken earlier photos for the provincial website.

(NAMRIA's Task Force Balanacan with DENR provincial director)

A plan for the Luzon Datum of 1911 National Landmark and Eco-tourism Site Development was eventually hatched. Preparation of plans and securing the necessary construction permits from concerned authorities for the civil works to be undertaken came next.

To spread information about the existence of such an important landmark in their midst and to create awareness on the potential of the site’s future development as an eco-tourism site, barangay captains from the areas north of Balanacan were gathered by the tourism committee of the provincial board, then headed by board member, Yolando Querubin. The news was welcomed by the barangay officials who saw its potential to, indeed, spur interest and progress in their less-visited barangay cluster.

("Trip na Trip" crew at the site. Franzen, the show host interviewing Joven Lilles)

Soon came the technical team of ABS-CBN’s popular TV-show “Trip na Trip” that did a special feature on Marinduque with a visit to the datum station marker atop Mataas na Bundok. By July 2009, “Marinduque: Center of the Philippines” billboards were installed by Jamilla in the WOW Philippines festivities in Intramuros, featuring a special “Marinduque Day” cultural show with Carrion and provincial administrator, now Congressman, Lord Allan Q. Velasco gracing the opening ceremonies.

(Popular photographic view of Balanacan Harbor. Datum Station Balanacan is atop Mataas na Bundok, the mountain in the background)

The task group composed of NAMRIA and DENR has since worked closely with the Provincial Government of Marinduque and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), formerly National Historical Institute. The NHCP eventually issued a certification declaring the national significance of Datum Station Balanacan. To reserve a parcel of public land as the site of the Luzon Datum origin national historical landmark, a presidential proclamation continues to be worked out by the task group.

Literature on the Geography of the Philippines - such as one by Wikipedia – was eventually updated by said Internet organization referring to Marinduque now as the center of the Philippines (sourced from a write-up of this blogger), based on the Luzon Datum origin. More significantly, the previous claims made by the other concerned entities appear to have slowly and grudgingly quieted by now, and it is such great pleasure.

Susong Dalaga Hill

Susong Dalaga Hill
Susong Dalaga Hill from Bagtasan isthmus

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