Roel Robles had been on Pagasa Island for less than a week when he found himself wondering, with something like despair: Is it possible for one white-beached, palm-studded place to be both heaven and hell, paradise and prison?Pagasa plays tricks with your mind.
"When you first get there, you see this little island resort," said the 30-year-old sergeant in the Philippine National Police. "Then after about five days, something snaps. You begin telling yourself, 'I have to get out of here -- now, today.' "
Its few dozen inhabitants can walk around the pint-sized perimeter in 30 minutes. From its highest point, nine feet above sea level, they gaze out at turquoise seas all around.
It's a stunning view. But it's the same view, day after day.For the government in Manila, however, all that matters is that it's a Philippine view.
Pagasa may be a 75-acre speck of sand and rock, but that hasn't stopped a swarm of countries from battling over the hundreds of specks of sand and rock that make up the Spratlys, which may be the most disputed island chain on Earth.
So, in 2002, the Philippines decided to establish a small colony of hardy civilian settlers on the island, augmenting the two dozen military workers who earn special "loneliness pay" to live on the far-off spot -- and bolstering its claim that possession is nine-tenths of the law.
The result is sort of "Cast Away" meets Plymouth Rock.
In a nation where half the 90 million residents endure grinding poverty, Pagasa volunteers get free food and housing and guaranteed work. But there's also guaranteed boredom. Many who inhabit Pagasa consider the calendar their worst enemy. Others mark off time on the wall like stir-crazy convicts.
With a main port named Loneliness Bay, the island can take such a psychological toll that one inhabitant stabbed himself just to escape it. Another hanged himself two days after he arrived.
"The happiest day on Pagasa is when the boat comes to take you off," said Robles, who after three months on the island last year has returned home here, only to dread his next Pagasa assignment. "Next is seeing the plane arrive with supplies. The sound of those engines means cigarettes and alcohol."
Picture makes it look like a paradise. I guess its poison veiled as nectar. Escape from the daily, mundane life to an island paradise seems like a good plan. If it drives you nut, its kind of a moot point. Always wanted my own island paradise. After reading this, having second thoughts on that!