Banton, officially the Municipality of Banton (formerly known as Jones), is a fifth-class municipality in the province of Romblon, Philippines. According to the 2020 census, it has a population of 5,737 people.
Its territory encompasses the entire island of Banton located on the northern portion of the province and lies on the northern portion of the Sibuyan Sea near the southern tip of Marinduque. It is a town of about 5,000 people majority of which speak the Asi language (also known as Bantoanon), one of the five primary branches of the Bisayan languages.
Banton is thought to be already inhabited by Filipinos since the pre-colonial period, based on analysis of human remains, coffins, an ancient burial cloth and other archaeological finds discovered at the Guyangan Cave System by the National Museum in 1936. The present settlement was founded in 1622 by the Spanish and is the oldest settlement in the province. During the American colonial period, the municipality changed its name to Jones in honor of American congressman William Jones, who authored the Philippine Autonomy Act of 1916. Today, Banton is one of Romblon’s thriving municipalities, with an economy dependent on copra farming, fishing, raffia palm weaving, and tourism. The island is collectively known as a cultural landscape due to its historical, cultural and archaeological value to humanity.
Banton Island is a rocky volcanic island situated in the Maghali Island Group of Romblon Province, around 7-12 hours south of Manila. This island municipality of more than 6,000 people is surrounded by the Sibuyan Sea which boasts one of the most preserved marine life in the Philippines.
The island was originally named Batoon due to its rocky coastline and topography. Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, an ancient civilization has already existed in the island as suggested by the various artifacts recovered from the island’s caves in 1936. One of the artifacts is a boat coffin with a well-preserved mummy and burial cloth. The burial cloth is reportedly the oldest in Southeast Asia.
The island municipality is also one of the oldest in the Philippines, having been established as a town under Spanish rule in 1622. The Spanish built a fort called Fuerza de San Jose and a church in honor of San Nicolas de Tolentino, all of which were built under the supervision of a Spanish captain and priest, Padre Agustin San Pedro. The fortifications protected the town from recurring raids from Muslim pirates which used to infest the country’s waters.
Today, the island municipality is known for fishing, copra farming and various cottage industries but it also has lots of potential for tourism and development. The town of has a newly expanded ferry port and seawall that caters to interisland ferries and motorized boats that regularly plies the Sibuyan Sea.
The town features numerous Spanish era houses and fortifications. One example is the aforementioned Fuerza de San Jose and the Ugat Faigao Museum and Ancestral House. The roads are narrow yet concrete and the only mode of transportation are the numerous passenger motorcycles called habal-habal which carry people and goods around the island. Due to its distance to the main island of Romblon and to the Luzon mainland, electricity in the island is an issue as it only lasts from late afternoon to around midnight.
In recent years, cellular phone service from Smart Telecom and Globe Telecom became available in the island. A public satellite phone service is also available in the island
The island municipality has its own language called Asi or Bantoanon. Majority of the islanders speak the local language but they also capable in communicating in Filipino and English. If you wis to learn basic Asi you can report to the Asi Studies Center for Culture and the Arts along Fortunato Fadriquela street.
Scattered along the island’s coastline are various white sand and coral beaches like Macat-ang Beach and Mainit Beach both in Barangay Mainit, the farthest barangay of the municipality. Macat-ang Beach offers cottages, huts and beach umbrellas for beach lovers and features a lovely view of Bantoncillo Island, an islet approximately two miles from the beach. Mainit Beach, meanwhile, has a longer coastline and boasts hot springs in the middle of the sea. Tourists and locals alike can bathe in the lukewarm water produced in the area. Other beaches include Tabonan Beach (located in an inhabited island a few meters from the island and famous for its fine golden sands), Siocan Beach (opposite Tabonan Beach and accessible only by boat) and Recodo Beach in Barangay Banice.
Spelunking enthusiasts might find Banton Island exciting as it is also rich in caves filled with history and culture. Among the many caves in the island are Ipot Cave in the Guyangan Cliffs where prehistoric artifacts were found in 1936 (now displayed at the National Museum in Manila) and the Silak Cave in Barangay Togbongan.
Banton Island was also cited in the book “Diving the Philippines and Southeast Asia” by Heneage Mitchell as one of the best diving sites in the country. Some of the diving sites in the island he noted are the island’s West Side, the Northeast Wall (just off the Moro Caves) and the Dos Hermanas Islands (two inhabited islands several kilometers northwest of the island). Unfortunately, diving enthusiasts have to bring their own equipment as the island has no diving facilities.