Sometimes, I forget that I live on one of the “best islands in the world.” Maybe this is what the fog of crippling burnout does—makes me forget that a nice afternoon walk when the sun is low can break the usual route of the same fronts, the same park, and the same Balayong trees.

What makes a place distinct is its tourism icon. You hear Bohol, and you think of Chocolate Hills. Bicol, you think of Mayon. Davao, you think of Mount Apo. And Puerto Princesa—you think of the Underground River.

Maybe we label the destinations as places to go and not as complete places they should be. The same way we label people based on their distinctiveness—someone curvy, someone funny, someone with a pointed chin, someone who yawns a lot, or someone with lazy eyes—completely overlooking all the other parts of them that make them ‘them’.

It’s a little secret, but my favorite place in the city is the 10-meter strip of sidewalk along Socrates Road with thriving mangrove trees. I always find that tiny place peaceful and unyielding. It’s not as assumingly loud or glamorous. It just ‘is’.

In the early days of COVID lockdowns, a family from Metro Manila traveled to Palawan for what I assumed to be a happy getaway. But by the end of their prolonged forced stay, one of them—the mother—died due to the virus, was cremated, and was buried in an unfamiliar territory. Maybe for them, Puerto Princesa is “heartbreak.”.

I can imagine that thousands of residents may have their own versions of Puerto Princesa. Maybe for some, it is comfort. For others, a place they need to get out of.

But Puerto Princesa will remain Puerto Princesa no matter who lives in it. The same way the thousands of our ancestors who came hundreds of years ago called it “paradise,” the same way we do now.

People change, evolve, and grow. And yes, people shape their environment the way they want to. But no matter how many definitions, characteristics, flavors, or emotions we label the place, it will forever be its own ‘it’. Maybe how you define Puerto Princesa won’t matter.

We are merely here. Now. And maybe we just need to let Puerto Princesa ‘be’.