How Malapascua made the limelight

The first Resort to open on Malapasca more than fourteen years ago was Cocobana. At that time noone was diving around the island, and indeed the local diving community around Cebu was adamant that Malapascua had nothing to offer. That didn’t deter Dik de Boer though and he dived extensively around Malapascua, wanting to find out if there was any basis for a dive resort. Knowing what we know today, it’s no surprise he was pleasantly surprised about the diving. Talking one day to a local fisherman Dik found out about Takot Tugas (what we now know as Monad Shoal.) The first dives proved rather uninteresting, but then one morning Dik diving with his good friend Michael Persson saw Thresher Sharks! Following dives proved that it wasn’t just a fluke and that thresher were more or less always there. With this knowledge Dik started Exotic Beach Resort, the first all inclusive resort on Malapascua.

The reason why thresher sharks are usually never sighted by divers, is that most of the time they are simply too deep, hundreds of meter below the depth dived by most recreational divers, so even though divers and sharks may share the same bodies of water, they wouldn’t meet. However, like most other fish thresher sharks need to get periodically cleaned of parasites, and it is this that brings them to Monad Shoal in the early morning, where there’s large colonies of cleaner fish.

The first guests of Exotic spread the word about the thresher sharks and from there it didn’t take the team from Scubazoo and Doug Perrine long to make their way to Malapascua with their cameras. Inspired by this first movie, German photographers and writers connected with leading German scuba magazines, also came along  and told the story. After this, recreational divers got to know the name Malapascua, and inevitably started making their way to the remote island. This in turn of course resulted in a few other dive operators opening up shops and resorts. The word further spread, when the late Steve Irwin (Yes, the Australian croc-man) came along and did a wildlife documentary on the thresher sharks at monad shoal. That perhaps was what really opened people’s eyes to the beauty of the shy, silvery and bigeyed sharks.

Today Malapascua Island is slowly gaining fame as a tourism destination in the Philippines, but it’s still a very quiet and laid back Island.

One curious bit of trivia is that when the first two resorts on Malapascua, Cocobana and Exotic, opened the locals thought the foreign investors were stark raving mad - why anyone would bother coming to Malapascua was sheer lunacy. Originally Freddy, the owner of Cocobana wanted to name the beach we now know as Bounty Beach, Ithaka beach after greek mythology. If travel-guide author Jens Peter, who then wrote for Lonely Planet, hadn’t persuaded him to instead name the beach Bounty Beach, we would likely have known the beach by that name now. What brought the name change around was supposedly that Ithaka is a German derogative for Italians. Hardly a fitting name for a beach destined to become a landmark on the international  tourist map.

The Japanese occupation

The Japanese assault on the Philippines started on December 8, 1941 just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbour in Hawaii. Just as at Pearl Harbour, the American aircraft were destroyed on the ground, forcing the American Asiatic Fleet to withdraw to Java on December 12, 1941.

Japanese troops landed at the Lingayen Gulf on December 22, 1941 and advanced across central Luzon towards Manila. On the advice of President Quezon, General MacArthur declared Manila an open city on December 25, 1941 and removed the Commonwealth government to Corregidor. The Japanese more or less unopposed occupied Manila on January 2, 1942.

MacArthur then concentrated his troops on the Bataan peninsula to await the relief of reinforcements from the United States.  After the destruction at Pearl Harbour these would never come, and the Japanese quickly succeeded in penetrating the defenses. From Corregidor, MacArthur had no alternative but to organize a slow and desperate retreat down the peninsula. President Quezon and Vice-President Osmena left Corregidor by submarine to form a government in exile in the United States. General MacArthur himself managed to escape Corregidor on the night of March 11, 1942 bound for Australia; 4,000 km away through Japanese controlled waters.

The 76,000 starving and sick American and Filipino defenders in Bataan surrendered to the Japanese on April 9, 1942. and were led on a cruel and criminal Death March on which 7-10,000 died or were murdered before arriving at the internment camps ten days later.

For over three years and right to the day of Japan's surrender, the Philippines were to suffer grievously under the depredations of military occupation. The liberation of the Philippines was costly. In the Philippines alone, the Americans lost 60,628 men and the Japanese an estimated 300,000. Filipino casualties are estimated at over a million and, sadly, these occurred mainly in the last months of the war when the final outcome had long been decided in any event.

The most serious long term consequence of World War II on the Philippines was to poison the social and political climate for decades. Prior to his departure for exile in the United States, President Quezon had advised Dr. Jose Laurel to stay behind and cooperate in the civil administration of the Japanese occupation. Whether it was good advice or not, President Quezon had hoped that with the cooperation of Filipinos, the occupation might be less severe. Following Laurel's morally ambiguous example, the Philippine elite, with regrettably few exceptions, collaborated extensively with the Japanese in their harsh exploitation of the country. In striking contrast a very effective guerilla movement was mounted against the Japanese occupation, and an investigation after the war showed that more than 260.000 people had been involved in guerilla operations.

By war's end, the members of the resistance firmly believed that the widespread collaboration and corruption of the well-to-do had discredited the ruling elite and that they had thereby forfeited any chance and moral authority to govern. The United States had other plans however, as many guerillas had well known socialist and communist sympathies. Despite their political affiliations, the resistance fully expected the American forces to treat them as allies and war heroes in recognition of their resistance and contribution to the war effort. Instead, the U.S. Army military police set out to disarm them as dangerous insurgents.


Yamashita was a WW2 Japanese general, who by many was believed to have stored large quantities of gold, gem stones and other valuables in the Philippines. These treasures were allegedly left behind in caves and tunnel complexes as the Japanese were forced to retreat as the fortune of war changed. Claims of discovery of parts of the treasure surface from time to time, but always go unsubstantiated. To many Philippinos the mystery that shrouds the legend of Yamashita’s gold is intriguing to say the least.  As you would probably expect, there’s hoaxers who make good money on catering to the many dreamers and treasure hunters. There’s always someone whose granddad was given a map by a dying Japanese soldier, someone who knows someone who knows of a cave where there’s strange Japanese signs and so on...

In actual fact most historians dismiss the stories of hidden treasure. It just doesn’t make any sense to leave such treasures behind - it makes even less sense not to come and get it after the war.

Having said that, Malapascua is one of the (many many many) islands, where the Japanese supposedly left a treasure. Of course people have sought this treasure, and found nothing. This, to a true treasure hunter, only proves that the gold is more cleverly hidden than assumed at first...

Inevitably people who enjoy succes on Malapascua are rumoured to have found Yamashita’s secret stash.  Hardly surprising, no one’s admitted they’ve got a ton of gold stored away...

If you are interested in searching for the treasure yourself, talk to us! we’ve got this strange map we’d like to sell you...


In the local language of Cebuano Malapascua means bad Christmas, (mal- bad  pasco - christmas) and the story goes, that the island got its name from the Spanish back in the fifteen hundreds, when they made landfall around christmas and weren’t too impressed with the lack of fresh water (or the stormy weather for that matter). However, it may very well have been another time of year, as ‘pascua’ in Spanish actually means Easter. Whatever the truth is, today both Easter and Christmas are lovely times of the year to be on Malapascua.