Home Culture Sunken 16th Century Nueva Ecija Town Emerges, Drawing Tourists to Philippine Ruins

Sunken 16th Century Nueva Ecija Town Emerges, Drawing Tourists to Philippine Ruins

PANTABANGAN, Philippines — The ruins of a centuries-old town have emerged from a drought-stricken dam in northern Philippines, giving residents a rare glimpse into the past and providing an unexpected source of income amid the region’s water crisis.

As a prolonged dry spell drained the Pantabangan reservoir in Nueva Ecija province, the receding waters have revealed the remnants of an old church and other structures from the long-submerged town. The eerie sight has drawn tourists from across the country, with locals seizing the opportunity to ferry visitors by boat to the haunting island ruins.

“When I heard about the sunken church resurfacing, I was so excited to see it,” said Aurea Delos Santos, 61, a retired nurse making a day trip. “The old world has reappeared before our eyes.”

For Nelson Dellera, a 48-year-old fisherman, the dry spell has proven a blessing in disguise. Where he once earned just 200 pesos ($3.50) a day, he can now make up to 1,500 to 1,800 per day ($30) ferrying curious tourists in his small outrigger canoe.

“I never imagined this drought would allow me to explore the old town myself, and benefit from it,” Dellera said. “For kids who haven’t seen the town when it was still above water, it’s an adventure for them.”

Originally called Pantabangan, the town dating to the 16th century Spanish colonial era was intentionally inundated in the 1970s to construct a dam that would help irrigate the surrounding farmland. The reservoir quickly became a critical water source for agriculture in Nueva Ecija and neighboring provinces.

Now, the same vital dam has dried up under the region’s sweltering heat and El Niño conditions, exposing a ghost town that still captivates those who remember its living streets. Locals say the eerie re-emergence is both an economic lifeline and grim reminder of a worsening crisis.

“The image is powerful, the drought bringing forth and exposing what we have lost,” said Lucille Baylon, 68, who was born in the old town before its abandonment. “Nature is trying to tell us something.”

Across the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia in recent weeks, extreme heat and drought have prompted school closures, health warnings and fears over impacts on food production. For now, Pantabangan’s former residents are grappling with a drought that has brought their past back to life, even as it imperils their present.