i am born and raised in the island of Basilan. spent the first seventeen years of my life there thus i consider it as my island province. lived in the former capital city of Isabela, which is now part of the Zamboanga peninsula.
there are no direct commercial flights to the island, making Zamboanga city as the gateway to the island. there are a number of trips of ferries and fast crafts to the island every day. with two major ports going to the city of Isabela and Lamitan.of the many years of conflict and unwanted events, very few has dared to cross Basilan strait, the water that separates Sulu sea in the west and the Moro gulf in the East. home to the Muslim ethnic group Yakan and Tausug and a number of sea gypsies, the Badjaos.
among the most usual sight when one enters the Isabela channel are the stilt houses of the Badjaos. occupying the shoreline of Basilan island on the left and Malamawi island on the right. something usual to islands of the archipelago of Sulu of which Basilan island is the largest.i grew up seeing Badjaos begging for coins from the ferries of the pier of Isabela. they would usually ask the people to throw it to the waters while they all jump from their wooden boats to get the coins. a display of their expertise in deep sea diving.
with the continuous conflict between the military and the terrorists in the archipelago, military detachments are also positioned in the channel. it serves as dock points to navy boats, watch towers and on weekend are turned into picnic sites.
Isabela city is a component city since administratively it belongs to the Zamboanga peninsula while the rest of the eleven municipalities including Lamitan is part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or more known as ARMM.
the city is divided by the Aguada river with the central and commercial area in the east and the large residential area in the west. main source of livelihood is agriculture which includes rubber, copra, coffee and palm oil which are often exported.
the main seat of government in the island is the new provincial capitol in the central city area. the old capitol was on the same location which was burned in 1993. few knew that Basilan before it became a province, was as a whole declared as Basilan city along with Zamboanga city but was later divided into seven municipalities and now to twelve to extend leadership.
a park away from the capitol is Sta Isabel cathedral, the church that has been bombed several times through the years, thus most of the time it is guarded by military soldiers. some of the gates are regularly closed to control the people entering the church. it was accidentally burned in the 1960s but was rebuilt with an altar with an intricate mosaic which came from Italy. one of the best that i've seen which i believe every visitor in the island should closely see.though the long conflict in the island lead it in isolation to tourists, it is a misconception that Christians and Muslims cannot live together. i grew up having Muslim barkadas, really good friends and we get along together even now. we knew our differences, we knew where we can go together.
how to get there:
there are regular flight from Manila to Zamboanga with the major airlines - 1hour 20minutes
from Zamboanga, take a taxi to the pier of the ferry that goes to Basilan. better if you ask the taxi to bring you directly inside the pier.
option 1: cheaper way is by ferry to the pier of Isabela. 1hour and 40minutes.
option 2: taking the fast craft which is less than an hour to the pier of Isabela.
it is advisable to check first the situation in the island before setting a visit. i also recommend that you know of someone from the island who can guide you around.
6^ 42" 22' N
121^ 58" 20' E