Geography of Aurora
by Jesus T. Peralta

'Aurora' refers to either the northern lights (aurora borealis) or the southern lights (aurora australis), a natural phenomenon characterized by the appearance of streamers of colored light in the sky near the earth's magnetic poles and caused by the interaction of charged particles from the sun with atoms in the upper atmosphere. By poetic extension, the word also means dawn, goddess of the dawn.

A Landscape of Contrasts

The province of Aurora, named after the wife of former president of the Philippines, Manuel L. Quezon, is aptly enough also where the rays of the sun first dawns in this country.

Contrast to this the severity of the landscape. The Sierra Madre Mountain Range, which extends south from the extreme northeastern side of the country into of the Eastern Cordillera, comprises the common physiographic structure upon which the entire region is defined. This lofty highland system is continuous and lies parallel to the eastern coastline of Luzon. The rocky eastern slopes form an almost inaccessible shoreline that is exposed to the full force of the northeast trade winds and the continual buffeting of the waves and surf of the Pacific Ocean. This rather sterile rampart of eastern Luzon extends from Cape Engano in the northeastern corner of the island southward to Dingalan Bay for a length of some 576 kilometers through the isthmus of Quezon into the Bondoc Peninsula. The coastline is rocky and steep, highly forested, and with cliffs rising abruptly into the massive mountain system. Few bays break into the northern part of the coast. The only relatively lowland areas are found in the vicinities of Palanan, Casiguran, and Baler bays.

Eastern Luzon, for a long time has not offered a very hospitable environment for habitation because it is heavily forested and provided with excessive precipitation, making for its relative inaccessibility. It was only because of the extensive population pressures on the central plains of Luzon that settlers were forced into this littoral area. Even today, agriculture is of very minor significance except for some rather large areas in the south that is planted with coconuts. Most of the regional economy is tied to forest exploitation.

The province is located at the east-central side of the island of Luzon. The region is a combination of a small number of coastal lowlands and very rugged and mainly inaccessible highland interior composed of the Eastern Cordilleras of Luzon and the northern extension of the Sierra Madre Range. The descent of the land is very abrupt, leaving very little development on the coastal plains. There are many short but swiftly flowing streams that did not develop deltas out into the deep waters lying very close inshore. The coast lacks good harbors. The entire coastline is exposed to the full effects of the moist air masses and the raging typhoons of the western Pacific Ocean. Throughout the entire coastline, rainfall is constant and abundant.

The Province of Aurora

Mano Falls

Aurora is the northernmost province of the Southern Tagalog political division (Region IV). In the north, the provinces of Isabela and Quirino hem it in. Directly west of it are the provinces of Nueva Ecija and Nueva Vizcaya, while the Bulacan and Quezon provinces are located south. The entire 328 kilometers eastern side of Aurora fronts the western side of the Pacific Ocean. The province forms part of the eastern side of the Sierra Madre Mountains and is characterized by high and rugged mountainous terrain. The chain is broken only at certain points through the mountains by which the province is accessed by the rest of Luzon, otherwise Aurora can only be approached by water from the Pacific Ocean. Many short, fast-moving mountain streams throughout the long coast and six rivers drain Aurora.

Most of eastern Luzon lies fully open to the northeastern airflows from the Pacific Ocean. Exposed locations receive annual precipitation that is in excess of 2,540 millimeters. Generally the period from October to March experience the heaviest rainfall however the other months are not necessarily dry.

Typhoons pose a constant danger. Although they can come at any time, they are most prevalent in the period from September to December. Typhoons that approach from the east or southeast of the island of Leyte and Samar and cross over the archipelago north of Manila are particularly dangerous, because their paths traverse directly through eastern Luzon. Those that pass south of Manila are no less dangerous since they bring very strong northeast to southeast winds and heavy rain.

Rainfall in the province is rather evenly distributed throughout the year, and the monthly average is 273.9 millimeters. The precipitation is heaviest during the months of January, February, April, October, and November. August is the month with the driest record. The mean monthly temperature is 25.3 degrees Celsius. The coldest months come on during the onset of the northeast wind currents blowing from mainland Asia during January and February, with the temperature ranging from 19.3 to 20.4 degrees Celsius. The total land area of the province is 309,707 hectares comprising of approximately 1% of the total land area of the Philippines. Some 230,000 hectares of this is given to forests that compose about 70% of the land area. The virgin dipterocarp forest comprises some 39,000 hectares. More than half of the province has either steep or very steep slopes and only 14 % of the area is flatland.

Natural Resources

The province is rich in mineral resources; copper, iron, chromites, manganese, gold, and nickel are abundant. There are also rich deposits of non- metallic minerals like guano, black sand, cement, marble, carbon, and silica. The province is also rich in other resources like sabutan, coconut, nipa, bamboo, gravel, sand, wood, rattan, shell, buri, and nito. The resources are largely untapped due to lack of investment.

Aurora has many natural tourist attractions. Its waterfalls, beaches, lush green mountains, deep-blue ocean are stunning. So are the country pastures and farmlands. Much of the resources remains undeveloped and can be considered important for growth.

Getting to Aurora

There is a road link in Cabanatuan to Dingalan that can be accessed through the Canili-Pantabangan route, leading into the town of Maria Aurora. Some portions of the route are very steep. Roads connect Baler to Manila. The Baler-Bongabon road leads to the town of San Luis and finally ends in Baler. This is the more commonly used route. There is continual upgrading of this road that includes cementing. To get around Aurora by sea there are a number of recourses. Passenger boats are available from Duungan, located in riverbank leading to Baler Bay and the Poblacion. Docked along the bank are boats for trips to Dinalungan, Casiguran, and Dilasag.

A total road network of 1,507,682 kilometers link key areas in the province of which 97% (or 1,468,061 kilometers) is surfaced by gravel, less than 1 % (or 7,736 kilometers) asphalt-covered, and the remaining 2% (or 31,885 kilometers) concrete. During the height of the rainy and monsoon season the gravel roads are difficult to access since much of these can be found in mountainous terrain that are prone to landslides and road cuts. Most of the roads lack adequate drainage resulting in erosion and accumulation of water in the roadways. The coastal road along Baler and Casiguran are made of fine sand and is difficult to traverse for small vehicles especially when the sand grains are dry.

Aurora has six ports in all. Four are municipal ports located in Baler and Casiguran. Two ports are privately owned and often used during the height of the rainy season when the Baler-Casiguran road is not safe to use. These two are used to travel between Baler and Dilasag. There is an airport in San Luis maintained by the Philippine Army that can accommodate Cessnas, Fokkers, and Islanders, and other light planes and helicopters. Flight takes about 45 minutes and the airfield is 25 minutes away from Baler. Another private airstrip is in Motyong, Casiguran, owned by logging concessionaires.

Households obtain water supply principally using water pumps, which account for 91% of the total water facilities. Of the municipalities, Casiguran and Dipaculao have the most difficulty in sourcing water. Baler has the least problem with respect to water access.

All the municipalities of Aurora are served by electricity with Baler having the most households served. The Luzon grid of the National Power Corporation, through the Aurora Electric Cooperative, Inc., generates the power; or the 5 MVA power substation of AURELCO located in Barangay San Isidro, San Luis, which uses a 69 KV power transmission source that reaches the barangays of Baler and San Luis.

Communication with the province is made possible by some thirty facilities. Telecommunication facilities are made up of five public and two private telegraph stations, and four privately owned systems of radio communication. This includes RCPI and PT&T for telegraph service, long distance and overseas calls. There is an office of the Bureau of Telecommunication (BUTELCO) in Casiguran, with AZ Communication in Baler as the transmitting station. Access to high-speed Internet services is also available in Baler. The Aurora State Colleges provides these services to students, faculty, and staff. To handle communication between municipalities a Provincial Law Enforcer Communication System (PLECS) has been established, which is particularly useful during times of emergency. Widely distributed throughout the province also are hand-held radios, transceivers, and single sideband radios usually through the communication networks of regional or central offices. There are post offices in each of the municipalities, with Baler having two. Postal service is under the Bureau of Posts.

The provincial population is 173,797 (NSO 2000). There are 35,873 households with an average size of 5.1 members. The population density is 54 per square kilometer. The predominantly rural population is approximately 131,829 with an annual growth of 1.84%, making Aurora the least populated province of Region Iv: Only 24.2 % live in urban areas. There are 108 males for every 100 females. 40.90% of the population are below 15 years. The largest age group is between 15 and 65 and this make up 55.60% of the total population. Those ages 65 and above comprise 3.50%. The literacy rate is 94.54%.

The major crops are coconut (23,285 hectares of land) and rice (21,720 hectares). Fishing is also a major industry.

Baler, DICADI and Other Towns

The province is divided into eight political subdivisions: Baler, Casiguran, Dilasag, Dinalungan, Dingalan, Dipaculao, Maria Aurora, and San Luis. The barangays in these towns total 152.

The provincial capital is Baler, the oldest municipality and the second largest in terms of population. It is the smallest in land area and the most densely populated. Both the late Manuel L. Quezon and the wife Do´┐Ża Aurora Aragon hail from this municipality. It is the seat of government and center for trade and industry, being the most progressive town. Baler commands most resorts, public institutions, facilities, and business establishments. It is the home of the historic Baler Catholic Church, where Spanish resistance fighters held off Katipuneros, until they surrendered in 2 July 1899.

Casiguran is the most urbanized of the northern municipalities and it is one of the three towns collectively called "DiCaDi" area, which stands for Dinalungan, Casiguran-Dilasag. Among the three, Casiguran has the most population and is considered the nominal capital of the province. It is the most developed of the DiCaDi area having a port, an airstrip, and a public hospital. It is also noted for its sandy beaches. The Calabgan River goes through Casiguran.

Dilasag is the northernmost municipality, with an environment that is least spoiled. There is heavy activity from loggers, but forests still abound. It is largely underdeveloped as it is the farthest from the centers of government. It has a long narrow virgin coastline, featuring fine white sand beaches. It has a very idyllic environment. It is an ideal site for surfing, windsurfing, snorkeling and diving. It is accessible from Baler through the highway. Motyong is the site of a small airport. To get there from Casiguran there is the main highway going north.

Dinalungan is the least populated of the towns. Its boundaries are the Dinalungan River, Dinadia Creek, and the Casiguran Sound. It is completely surrounded by water, and it is nestled in the Sierra Madre Mountains, a position that offers the best view of the Pacific Ocean. It is found between the mountains of Dipaculao and Casiguran. In the mountainous area, there are waterfalls, exotic birds. It is accessible by boat from Baler with a trip north for about 4 to 5 hours.

Dingalan has the most irregular topography among the municipalities. It is sparsely populated. This is the municipality nearest to Metro Manila, and is the southernmost town of the Province. The Sierra Madre separates this town from the rest of Aurora Province. Notable as tourist attractions are the Dingalan Bay View Point, Lamao, and Rocks of Dingalan, IFRC Nursery and Falls, and two natural pools for swimming. Off shore are coral formations and a white sand beach. Two rivers also traverse Dingalan: Ibuna and Sinagnuan Rivers.

Maria Aurora is the most populated municipality in Aurora. It is the only town that does not border on the Pacific Ocean, being inland and is largely in a mountainous area. One of its barangays is located near the Aurora Memorial National Park, which encompasses most of the Baler-Bongabon Highway and the Sierra Madre forests around it. A major attraction is Balete Park, home to the "Millenium Tree;' a centuries-old balete tree said to be the biggest in Asia. From here it is a mere 30-minute drive to Baler.

Dipaculao is the northernmost of the central sub-region of Aurora. The land is a long strip that offers stunning: vista from any vantage point. It is bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the east and by the virgin forests of the Sierra Madre to the west. It is alternately grazed by alternating contrast of breezes from the Pacific and forest zephyrs from the Sierra Madre. Two rivers drain Dipaculao: Ditale and Dibatuan Rivers. Dipaculao is north of Baler thru the Dicadi highway. It has a magnificent coastline noted for the Dinadiawan Beach, Ampere Beach, and the Borlongan Beach.

San Luis is the largest municipality of Aurora. It is the first town in Aurora that one reaches when traveling through the Aurora Memorial National Park. There are numerous waterfalls and springs. It is the largest in land area.

A Beauty With A Ferocious Temper

Aurora is a showcase of nature in its virginal beauty, but one that is also marked by a ferocious temper. This is the reason that there is an ambivalent feeling whether to further enhance the access to the province to provide for its development. More contact however will result in the degradation of its pristine condition. To further limit the access from the outside will somehow ensure that all that is being lost elsewhere in the country will remain for a longer time to be enjoyed by generations to come in Aurora. This is a Gordian knot that needs to be unraveled.