If you’ve ever wondered how the shapes of the islands, the elevation of peaks, and the depths of seas are measured and translated into easily readable maps that common people can understand, it’s all about the science of geodesy and datums. Even before Google Maps ever existed, surveyors and scientists used datums or geodetic reference points to collectively gather information on the lay of the land and sea in longitude and latitudes. That is why I had much appreciation to finally visit the Luzon Datum of 1911 site in Marinduque. A pivotal reference point used to triangulate networks of different datums in the country. It is, literally the center of the Philippines in a geodetic sense.
Luzon Datum of 1911
It was from 1901 to 1911 when the United States Coast and Geodetic Surveys (USCGS) and the Insular Government started conducting surveys in the country despite some insurrection at that time. Several datums were established in key locations in the country and triangulated at one reference point which is the location of Luzon Datum also known as the Station Balanacan. An iconic stone marker with a hole (6cm deep and 1.5 cm in diameter) can be found at the summit of Mt Mataas, roughly 220 meters above sea level in Baranggay Hinanggayon, Mogpog.
There were several arguments that the central reference point of the country should have been in Romblon but up to now National Mapping and Resource Information Agency (NAMRIA), the country’s central mapping agency still considers the Station Balanacan as the reference point for all surveys and mapping activities in the Philippines.
Sunset Splendor at the Summit
The Luzon Datum of 1911 site is not only for map makers, enthusiasts, or surveyors. Sightseers would appreciate the views from the summit of Mt Mataas. The local government made the hike to the summit easier with the newly constructed 468 stair steps up to the summit. There are covered rest areas at many points during the climb. There’s also a narrow paved road close to completion so other visitors who can’t climb the stairs (like elderlies or PWDs) can also appreciate the views at the summit too. A statue of the Virgin Mary and a higher octagonal platform to overlook the marker that looks like a giant compass is installed at the top. Make sure to stay for the sunset or climb before sunrise to enjoy the view of scenic ridges and mountain slopes leading to the sea.
To visit Luzon Datum of 1911, ride a tricycle to Balanacan port from Mogpog Town. Hire a habal-habal or tricycle to take you to the jump-off to jump-off. Haggle for the fare as it usually costs around Php 500 round trip.
There’s an entrance fee of Php 50 to access the summit.
Going to Marinduque
There are several ways now to reach Marinduque, the heart of the Philippines.
- Fly to Marinduque: The most convenient way is to fly directly from Manila. Cebu Pacific Air flies directly to Gasan Airport from NAIA Terminal 4 three times a week. Mondays are afternoon flights. Wednesday and Saturday are morning flights. Flight time is around 45 minutes. If you book in advance, round-trip fares can go as low as Php 3,000.
- Direct Bus from Manila: JAC Liner has direct buses going to Marinduque with bus fares of Php 900 – Php 1,000. The fare covers the terminal fee and RORO/Ferry sea transfer. Travel time takes 8 hours.
- Bus from Lucena: From Lucena Grand Terminal or Dalahican Port, take a ferry or RORO to any of the ports in Marinduque: Balanacan Port in Mogpog, Cawit Port in Boac or Buyabod Port in Sta Cruz. For the Luzon Datum of 1911, Balanacan Port should be your entry point. RORO Fare is Php 260. Travel time is 2.5 to 3 hours.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.