Culion Palawan

Culion, No Longer an ‘Island of No Return’

In the year 1906, during the American occupation in the Philippines, there was a place known as the “island of no return”. On that island, a leprosarium was established in order to purge the country from a contagious and highly misunderstood disease — Leprosy. The government believed that by isolating those who were infected, they would be able to save the rest of the population. As a result, many people were forcibly taken away from their families and exiled to the island that would supposedly help them heal. But as days passed by, many of them would realize that this beautiful sanctuary was slowly becoming their isolated prison.

Situated at the northernmost part of Palawan, the island of Culion used to be a flourishing village during the Spanish colonial period. The Spaniards even built a watch tower and fort on the island, a proof that Culion was indeed a place of great importance.

After Spain sold the Philippines to the United States under the Treaty of Paris, the Americans took over. They wanted to establish a public health policy in the Philippines which included the isolation of leprosy cases from the rest of the public. In 1901, after a thorough inspection of many other sites, the island of Culion was chosen as a segragation colony because of its strategic location.

Finally, on May 27, 1906, Culion opened its gates for the first time to the first batch of leper patients. All aboard the American ships, the Polilio and Mindanao, were 370 patients from Cebu who were brought to Culion to spend a life of isolation. In a span of 25 years, the number of patients rose dramatically to 16,138 as American coast guard vessels kept bringing patients to the island every two to three months. Culion became recognized as biggest and most advanced in the field of study of leprosy in the world.

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