Heritage Sites

Meet Manila Bay's Unsinkable Battleship, Floating Fort & Forgotten Island

Metro Manila, Cavite

Julius Calvin Santos
Julius Calvin Santos | Oct 02, 2014

Oftentimes, we associate Island-hopping activities with destinations in the Visayas and Mindanao regions. Little do we know that right here in the capital metropolis, a unique set of islands can be found just off the coast of Manila Bay.

Beyond their physical beauty, these islands are important parts of our nation’s history. However, after years of abandonment, Mother Nature has reclaimed these islands, restoring most of them back to their natural and untouched beauty.

Let’s explore and rediscover them one by one. In Part 2 of our series, we get to know El Fraile Island.

El Fraile (Fort Drum)

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Despite its small size, the El Fraile Island can easily be spotted because of its unique shape resembling that of a patrol ship.

El Fraile was once a barren rock island found off the coast of southern Cavite. What it lacked in size, it made up for in performance and significance, after it was leveled down and turned into a highly fortified island named Fort Frank.

The said project was conceptualized following the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898, when the US Board of Fortification realized the need to defend the Philippine Islands and other US territories overseas. As a result, the US Army built a massive fortress rising 40 feet above the water that resembles a heavily armed "concrete battleship."

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Completed in 1914, the century-old fortification of El Fraile is still impressively intact after surviving several years of bombardment during WWII and decades of neglect.

True to its commitment to defending Manila Bay, Fort Frank withstood heavy bombardment and air strikes by the Japanese forces during the onset of World War II. The fort fought continuously for 6 months and only surrendered after the fall of Corregidor Island on May 6, 1942.

The American forces later reclaimed the island in April 1945 by pumping fuel into the air vents and burning the garrison down under, incinerating the entire Japanese force inside the island fortress.

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From this distance, El Fraile reveals some of the important features of the “concrete battleship.” This includes a pair of armored steel gun turrets, the two 14-inch guns attached to each of them, and a lighthouse-like structure.

Today, El Fraile remains a noticeable landmark visible from the beaches and coastal areas of Ternate and Maragondon. A close inspection of the island reveals the scars left by the heavy bombardment that it endured during WWII.

Some of the cement cladding is already worn out by the years of neglect, revealing the rusting iron rods that make up its fortified walls. The armored steel guns are still very much intact and can be seen even from afar, while a lighthouse-like structure is nestled on the higher platform of the island.

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A close up of the island's southern portion reveals the marks left by the heavy land and air strikes that Fort Drum endured during WWII.

Any attempt to enter El Fraile is quite a challenge because of the height of the entrance and the absence of a docking port. It would take a perfect combination of high tide and sheer luck before any boat can dock near the concrete opening without being shattered by the crashing waves.

Nevertheless, the Island of El Fraile is still best observed from afar, where one could take in its entirety. Nowhere else on the planet can one encounter an island that is as historical and as unique as this unsinkable “concrete ship.”


VIEW: El Fraile's neighbor, the Batanes-like island of Carabao right in Manila Bay

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How to Get There

El Fraile can be reached through the towns of Ternate and Maragondon, Cavite. Travelers can either take any Ternate-Maragondon bound buses at the Metro Manila Southwest Terminal, or drive to these towns.

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Docking and entering Fort Drum is quite challenging for regular outrigger boats because of the height of the opening, which is at least 7 feet above the surrounding water.

In Ternate, they can approach any fisherman whose boats are docked near the marketplace to arrange the trip to El Fraile. Meanwhile, in Maragondon, an Island-hopping package can be arranged with the local tourism office. This already covers the islands of Carabao, El Fraile, Limbones, and some beach coves around the area.

For more island-hopping adventures, follow us at our Island Hopping Adventure Philippines (iHAP) page on Facebook as "iHAP" from one island to the other. LIKE US!

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