Culion consists primarily of Culion Island as well as 41 minor surrounding islands, as part of the Calamian group of islands.
It was a former leprosarium under the American commonwealth of the Philippines. The municipality was created by virtue of Republic Act No. 7193 on February 19, 1992.
Culion is an island situated at the northernmost part of Palawan. It is part of the Calamian Archipelago in northern Palawan that also includes the municipalities of Busuanga, Coron, and Linapacan. During the Spanish Period, these were known as Las Islas de Calamianes, Provincia de España.
The municipality has a land area of 500 square kilometres (190 sq mi) which includes the 41 surrounding islands and measures a total of 1,191.39 square kilometres (460.00 sq mi) including its territorial water. Its largest island, Culion Island, has an area of 389 square kilometres (150 sq mi). It is bounded on the north by Busuanga Island, on the east by the Coron Reef, on the south by Linapacan Island, and on the west by the South China Sea.
The Culion sea is teeming with a total of 201 fish species including commercially important fish like Lapu-lapu (Groupers), Kanuping (Sweetlip Emperor), Maya-Maya (Snapper), Tanguige (Spanish Mackerel), Dalagang Bukid (Blue and Gold Fusiliers) and Bisugo (Breams). Squid, cuttlefish, shrimps, crabs, shellfish and sea cucumber or trepang are plentiful.
Three ecosystems sustain the rich marine life of Culion: mangroves, seagrass, and corals. 17 mangrove species cover the coastline of Culion. 9 seagrass species and 47 coral genera representing 60% of the total genera found in the Philippines are found in Culion.
Aside from churches, the Spaniards built defensive fortifications in strategic places in Taytay, Cuyo, Agutaya, Linapacan, including a watch tower and fort in the locality of Libis in Culion.
In 1858, Calamianes was divided into 2 provinces, “Castilla” and “Asturias”. Castilla, which included northern Palawan, retained its capital of Taytay. Asturias extended south to Balabac. In 1873, the capital of Palawan was changed from Taytay to Cuyo. The French anthropologist Alfred Marche traveled the Philippines and documented his research of many places. French Ambassador Pirre Revol in particular translated Marche’s account of the Calamianes, and Culion.
Marche, who makes a fairly accurate description of the geography of the island, refers to Culion as the principal village of the Calamianes. The fact that a boat from Manila “touches Culion once a month” attests to the growing economy of the place at that time. Marche’s description of the place and people he met in the 1880s are important indicators of the ethnography of Calamianes since more than a hundred years ago.
The primacy of Culion as a leading settlement community of the Calamianes is further supported by the fact that a Justice of the peace resided and held office in Culion. Claudio Sandoval y Rodriguez a Spanish mestizo from Jaro, Iloilo married Evarista Manlavi daughter of a rich landowner from Cuyo. Claudio Sandoval became Jezgado de Paz de Culion, Calamianes and held office sometime in the late 1880s. The seal of Claudio’s office was found stamped on handwritten circular dated December 11, 1889 that he sent to all within Culion’s “roriedad y sus visitas” warning residents of the penalties that will be imposed on them should they be caught gambling. Culion’s “visitas” included the island of Busuanga and other areas in Calamianes.
A remnant of the fort in San Pedro located somewhere in Burabud is a testimony of a rich history of Culion. In the early 1990s, it was thought that this fort was already invaded by the roots of balete trees. This was built by the Spanish friars (Agustinian Recollects)and is older than the one we now see in Culion proper, the Immaculate Conception Church built by the Jesuits. This fort in San Pedro was more or less built on the same span of date as that in Agutaya, Taytay and Cuyo which forts found in these towns still stand today preserved by the Palawan government.
When the treaty of Paris was signed on December 10, 1898, wherein Spain sold the Philippines to the United States for 20 million dollars, the funding of Culion as a reservation is closely related to the early efforts of the Americans to establish some form of public health policy in the Philippines as part of their long-term intentions to occupy the archipelago.
One of the motivating factors for the creation of the Manila Board of Health was traditional belief that the maintenance of public health required the isolation of cases of leprosy from the rest of the public. After an investigation of a number of sites, the island of Culion was selected as a segregation colony in 1901. On October 27, 1902 the Second Philippine Commission appropriated an initial $50,000 for the establishment of Culion under the Secretary of Interior Dean C. Worcester and Director of Health Victor G. Heiser. On August 22, 1904, Luke E. Wright, the American Civil Governor of the Government of the Philippine Islands, Executive Order No. 35 signed the transfer of jurisdiction and control of Culion from the Municipality of Coron, reserving the same as a leper colony and a government stock farm.
In the 2015 census, the population of Culion was 20,139 people, with a density of 40 inhabitants per square kilometre or 100 inhabitants per square mile.
The original people of Culion are the Tagbanuas, a cultural minority group that lives by fishing and food gathering. While preserving their native customs and traditions, the Tagbanuas are greatly influenced by Muslim culture and social organization.
Early trading activities attracted people from other parts of Palawan, like Calamianen and Cuyonon, who came and stayed in Culion as their new home.
Today, however, the Tagbanuas no longer practice many of their cultural traditions and many of them have been converted to Christianity. They are largely marginalized, making up only about 8% of Culion’s total population. Barangay Carabao, under Republic Act 9032, was established for these indigenous people. They were also granted Certificates of Ancestral Domain under Republic Act 8371, also known as the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997.
The establishment of the leper colony in 1906, Hansenites and hospital staff were brought to Culion from different parts of the Philippines bringing their customs, habits, dialects, and regional characteristics, and the influx of migrants in the last three decades have understandably made Culion an heterogeneous population.