By Floro L. Mercene
Calauit, an island of the Calamian Archipelago, off the north-western coast of Busuanga Island, was declared a wildlife sanctuary and game preserve in 1977.
Then President Ferdinand Marcos transplanted animals from Africa to populate the 3,600-hectare island as a tourist attraction, known as Calauit Safari Park.
There were antelopes such as eland, gazelle, waterbuck, and impala, along with giraffe and zebra populating the area.
Today, only a few giraffes and zebras are left. All of the antelopes have died from neglect, since the only veterinarian had retired years ago.
Ten years after the native Tagbanuas were relocated in 1976 to give way to the animals, the 500 families eventually returned to reclaim their ancestral land in 1986.
Currently, the island is home to 1,500 residents, subsistence farmers and fishermen like their forefathers before them.
Dr. Joseph Tradio, 44, a member of the Coron Board of Trustees for the Calauit indigenous community, was only four years old when his tribe was forcibly removed from Calauit. They were dumped in Burabod and Halsey barangays on Culion Island, the leper colony.
During the Cory Aquino administration, Joseph’s father, Ismael, 81, led the Tagbanua tribe that conducted a People Power protest to allow them to return to their home.
A relatively wealthy man today, Ismael now owns several tracts of land in Calauit and Busuanga. All of his five children, three boys and two girls, are successful entrepreneurs.
Joseph became a dentist and was once a counselor of Busuanga. He runs a restaurant in Coron and a resort in Calauit.
He said soon Calauit will be a sleepy island no more. President Rodrigo Duterte has plans to set up a retirees haven in Calauit to the tune of $54 billion, including an airport.
All the residents would be given jobs, they were promised. The project is scheduled for groundbreaking this year.
If that happens, the remaining animals, now confined within a 500-hectare area might vanish altogether.
Coron is experiencing a tourism boom. Its many islands and coves are now occupied by high-end resorts and yachts are a common sight.
Coron, a backwater town 10 years ago is now teeming with local and foreign tourists.