I love Mindanao. Just the fact that my mother hailed from Cabadbaran, Agusan del Norte, and my father was once an adopted son of Mindanao—made me love this home of my lineage. It was there where Tatay met and fell in love with my Nanay.
Growing up in a quite closely knit family, I found it exciting whenever my parents’ relatives come for a visit, and I enjoyed listening to their banters and story with their thick Mindanaoan accents. That was why I was more than happy to have my first out-of-town assignment as a journalist in Davao City sometime in the late-1980s.
The moment I set foot in this vast, not yet populous and still-undeveloped city at the time, the more I fell in love with Mindanao, even if our group was told “that the New People’s Army [NPA] had just left the city”. Meaning it used to be NPA-infested until such time the city decided to put up the Apo Duwaling Festival, which, today, has come to be known as Kadayawan.
Since then, I have always wanted to come back to Davao and see the rest of Mindanao. I even asked my parents to come back home and make Mindanao our provincial haven. Luckily, I am able to visit Davao again in 2000 to experience Davao’s premier destination, the Pearl Farm, along with Eden Nature Park, Malagos Garden and the Philippine Eagle Mountain Resort.
I’ve been to Siargao island in Surigao del Norte once, sometime in 1998, to see the upcoming surfing destination and its famous Cloud Nine at the time. With a three-hour fast drive from Davao City, we passed by Butuan City. From Surigao City we took the roll-on/roll-off to Dapa Port, Siargao, and to our destination.
I was back again in Davao in 2016, that time to experience the Davao Fun sale activities, along with “your island for a day” Buenavista Island and the private Banana Plantation. Of course, I revisited Eden Nature Park, Malagos Garden and the Philippine Eagle Mountain Resort, and went to other places to experience the Davao food and drink crawl, its world-famous 911 and emergency response center and be with the local painters and artists at the new Seda Hotel.
My wish to see more of Mindanao came recently during the coverage of CPR Caravan in General Santos (GenSan) City. GenSan was the 12th hop of the CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) caravan, dubbed the “CPR on Wheels & Wings” campaign, an advocacy undertaking initiated by the Philippine Heart Association (PHA), in collaboration with the Department of Tourism (DOT).
Its ultimate goals are to transform every Filipino home, municipality/city and tourist destination into a CPR-ready community and make every Filipino 10 to 65 years old a lifesaver; to be on a par with Asian and Western nations that have been CPR-ready for years; and to put the Philippines on the international CPR-ready map.
The caravan’s previous stops were Boracay; Iloilo City, Guimbal and Banate, Iloilo; Tacloban and Ormoc, Leyte; Maasin, Southern Leyte; Davao City, Cagayan de Oro, Gingoog City, Misamis Oriental; and Pasacao, Camarines Sur.
GenSan: Tuna Capital of the Philippines and more
Despite the vast idle lands of GenSan, I find it a lovable city. Easily, its main attraction is the world boxing icon and currently senator of the land, Manny Pacquiao, and a visit to GenSan is never complete without dropping by and having photos in his mansions.
Mansion No. 1 has practically become some sort of a museum that the Pacquiaos allow the public to explore.
Mansion No. 2 is still home to the family whenever they are in GenSan. Except for the vast basketball court-cum-mini training gym and the big receiving room, a portion of the mansion is still off-limits to the public. It is there where they stay. The last time was in December 2016, where the family gave gifts to their neighbors and constituents.
Mansion No. 3 is an ongoing construction with a 200-hectare block composed of several housing units and a mini garden. Also under construction is the church/worship center.
He also has a roadside hotel bearing his name fronting a commercial building that hosts several business establishments, including Jinkee Pacquiao’s boutique that sells branded and imported bags.
The famous General Santos Fish Port Complex is at Barangay Tambler. The “Tuna Capital of the Philippines” is the largest producer of sashimi-grade tuna in the country. The fish port is equipped with modern facilities that comply with international standards on fish-catch handling.
The fish-port complex’s administration gave our group a tour of the place when, at the time was 6 a.m., fishing boats from the Philippines’s neighboring countries were there to sell their catch after a month of fishing in the high seas. Therefore the various fish on sale were coming from Japan, Indonesia and Malaysia.
This writer couldn’t resist a photo taken with the yellow-fin tuna while it was being weighed. This fish variety can weigh as much as 200 kilograms, according to workers in the fish port.
The Lamlifew Village Museum
The Lamlifew Village is home to the B’laan tribe of Sarangani, some 35 kilometers away from General Santos City. With around 1,000 families in this mountain community, the indigenous group thrives through farming while the women weave and produce accessories while teaching the younger generation to preserve their cultural heritage in their spare time.
Lamlifew is one of the tiny hamlets of Barangay Datal Tampal of the town of Malungon, Sarangani Province. The Lamlifew Village Museum was inaugurated at the National Museum of the Philippines in December 2007. It was launched in November 2008. Today, it is a functioning museum that manages a small but important artifact collection. It reaches out to Mindanao schools to engage in dialogue about the B’laan ethnolinguistic group. The museum was initiated by the Lamlifew Tribal Women’s Association (LTWA)—the first duly Securities and Exchange Commission-registered cultural organization completely initiated and operated by a Philippine indigenous community. The LTWA set about a cooperative-style beading workshop with a small-scale sales arm. The women have also worked to refresh understanding of and skills in ikat-dyeing and weaving, among themselves, with the help of their elderly virtuosos; and in relation to all those from beyond their village who inquire about their identity.
When our group arrived, villagers welcomed us with a traditional song and dance number. One of the elders served us sweet tomato cooked in the olden-day style—inside the grilled bamboo. Their black coffee is one of the best coffees I have tasted in recent years!
Lake Sebu, South Cotabato
Known for its three lakes, the majestic seven waterfalls, Seven Falls Zipline adventure and more, Lake Sebu is one of the most popular tourist destinations in southern Philippines. One of its beautiful and most popular resorts is Punta Isla Lake Resort.
Punta Isla offers the lake for a day tour. It is also a home of tilapias, where Lake Sebu is famous for. It is only in Lake Sebu where you can taste a variety of tilapia delicacies, from kinilaw, sinugbang tilapia, spicy fillet, tilapora and a lot more.
The placid lake of Lake Sebu can be found in Allah Valley near the municipality of Surallah, South Cotabato. Surrounded by rolling hills and mountains covered with thick rain forest, the lake has an area of 354 hectares (870 acres), with an elevation of approximately 1,000 meters (3,300 feet).
The lake’s shores and the surrounding rain forest are home to the indigenous T’bolis, Tirurays, Ubos and Manobos. One of the major groups, the T’bolis are known for their weaving skills and brassware production, as well as fishing skills. The rest of the population is composed of Ilokabos, Bicolanos and Ilocanos.
Lake Sebu is a three-hour fast drive (100-120 kilometers per hour by private car!) from General Santos City. When our DOT tour guide informed us that he’s taking us to a T’boli tribe, we thought there must be a village nearby Saranggani. So when we were almost “flying” passing by Koronadal and into South Cotabato, we wondered and asked each other, “Nasa Mindanao pa ba tayo [Are we still in Mindanao]?” Thank God, the long highway of Mindanao is properly cemented, and there was literally no traffic with lesser buses, private cars and trucks traversing the road.
We’re more than glad we made it at past 5 p.m. so we were able to see the captivating beauty that was Lake Sebu. Since we were not able to tour the T’boli museum, we just ate grilled tilapia and savored the coolness of Lake Sebu, Mindanao’s summer capital.
We were back at GenSan just in time for our dinner with the PHA delegates from Manila.
Looking at the map of the Mindanao regions, I’ve only been to Soccsksargen, the Davao region and Caraga—just almost half of Mindanao. I wish to experience the rest of Mindanao in the days to come.
One week after our brief experience of Soccsksargen, the war in Marawi erupted. I wish it would end soon.