This unedited article is for a commissioned travel feature in SMILE magazine of Cebu Pacific Air.
By some stroke of luck, an invitation for lunch with Manny Pacquiao dropped on our laps as soon as we arrived in the seaside town of Glan, where the world boxing icon spent his early childhood. “Manny is nice, lovable, and very simpático – you should meet him!” prominent resident Luz Margarita Ruiz-Yu beamed, segueing from an intriguing preview of antiques salvaged from the Ruiz ancestral house. And, true enough, my friends and I found ourselves the following day in a crowded gymnasium, rubbing elbows onstage with the “Pambansang Kamao”(National Fist), the heavyweight VIP at the festive birthday bash of the town mayor.
Now as congressional representative of Sarangani, Pacquiao has laid out a P21 million tourism and cultural development plan, paving the path for the relatively obscure province to become a full-fledged tourism champion in the country. Halved by General Santos City and Sarangani Bay, the southernmost province of mainland Mindanao covers two separate frontiers, much like a pair of boxing gloves. And, whether one pursues relaxation or recreation, the “Fightin’ Province of Sarangani” – as one foreign sports blogger dubbed it – delivers a one-two punch.
Tumble down 1.6 of whitewater along Pangi River in Maitum!
WILD, WILD WEST
Intrepid travelers will love the off-road adventures of Maitum in western Sarangani, two hours away from General Santos. “This town has a lot to offer like hiking, caving and river tubing,” says Manila-based multimedia journalist Izah Morales of www.tripadora.com. Maitum’s forests support rare wildlife such as the golden-crowned flying fox, Philippine tarsier and Philippine eagle. At Barangay New La Union, one can experience the thrill of water tubing down Pangi River, which is one of the cleanest rivers in the country. Flanked by lush mountains, adventurers hang on to solo floaters fashioned from tire tubes. Wrangled by trained river guides, they tumble down 1.6 kilometers of crisp whitewater through big boulders. “It’s one hell of a ride!” says Morales.
Maitum Anthropomorphic Potteries are around 2,000 years old.
Venturing further west, inquisitive minds can satisfy their archaeological curiosity by visiting Sagel Cave, amidst the simple Maguindanaon villages of Barangay Pinol. While Sarangani’s political independence is only two decades old, remarkable evidence traces its past to more than two millennia. In 2008, quarry workers accidentally discovered this cave, unearthing human-shaped secondary burial jars, similar to the ones found much earlier in nearby Ayub Cave. While anthropomorphic earthenware has been found elsewhere in the Philippines, the distinct facial expressions on the Maitum Jars make these discoveries unparalleled in Southeast Asia. Dated to the Metal Age – from around 5 BC to 225 AD – these mysterious finds are outstanding proof of an advanced civilization that thrived in prehistoric Sarangani. While the original artifacts are now housed at the National Museum in Manila, expertly crafted replicas and dioramas can be admired at the Maitum Municipal Hall.
Along the gray shores of Maitum, villagers reap the bounty of the sea, hauling buckets of the town’s prime product: bangsi or flying fish. Over 230 km of coastline hugs Sarangani Bay, which is home to a diversity of marine life that includes much larger animals like pygmy sperm whales, dugongs, whale sharks and marine turtles. Maitum’s beaches are nesting grounds for four of the five marine turtle species found in Philippine waters. Wildlife enthusiasts can head to the Pawikan Nesting Sanctuary in Barangay Old Poblacion, where visitors can release baby pawikanalong the beach. According to warden Danilo Dequiña, the sanctuary, which started as his hobby, has released over 3,000 hatchlings and freed 21 adult turtles since 2003, giving these endangered marine animals a fighting chance at survival.
Glan boasts the best beaches on mainland Mindanao!
On the other hand, easygoing travelers can enjoy laid-back pursuits in eastern Sarangani. The municipality of Glan, only 45 minutes from General Santos, boasts of the best beaches in mainland Mindanao. Across seven kilometers of white sand in Gumasa Beach, one can soak up the sun before others flock to these “tourist-ready” shores poised to become a major convention resort destination in a few years. Besides offering affordable accommodations, White Haven Beach Resort rents out small bangkas (outrigger canoes) so you can paddle out to snorkel and visit neighboring beaches. Gumasa Beach is surrounded by hills carpeted with coconut plantations, a local industry which has sustained the town – nicknamed “Coconut Queen of the South” – since its establishment.
Turn-of-the-century houses in Glan have decorative cutwork called calados
“Coconuts put us through college,” says Luz Margarita’s brother, Dr. Jose Tranquilino Ruiz II. Donning a panama hat and spectacles, the notable physician, town councilor and hotelier walked us through the history of Glan at Sarangani Highlands, his mountain resort in General Santos overlooking the province. In 1914, during the American occupation, their grandfather Don Tranquilino Ruiz was appointed by Governor-General Francis Burton Harrison to lead Cebuano colonos or settlers. They established “Colony No. 9”, an agricultural settlement in the southern frontier of the Empire Province of Cotabato that prospered to become present-day Glan. Today, besides the coconut plantations, a few ancestral homes built by those pioneering colonists have survived, distinguished by large capizshell windows and intricate cutwork called calados.
Long before Christian immigrants from Luzon and Visayas arrived in the early 20thcentury, Sarangani was already a cradle of diverse indigenous cultures. To this day, an impressive variety of ethnic groups live in the province, namely, the B’laan, Tagakaolo, T’boli, Uvo Manobo, Kalagan, Maguindanao and Sangil. One of many theories states that the province’s name is rooted in the Indonesian Sangil phrase saranganine, which means, “This is our territory.” “According to unofficial estimates, up to 60 percent of Sarangani’s population today are lumads(indigenous peoples),” says Allen Lawa, a project development aide of B’laan descent who works for the provincial government. Like most lumads, the B’laans were once very marginalized by lowland society. But things are changing for the better. “Growing up, I used to be ashamed to tell people I am B’laan,” Lawa admits, “but now I am proud of my unique culture…”
A B’laan elder weaves tabih (abaca cloth) in Lamlifew Tribal Museum, Malungon
Many young professionals belonging to indigenous groups are reconnecting with their ethnicity through cultural projects like the Lamlifew Tribal Museum at Barangay Datal Tampal in the only landlocked municipality of Malungon, only 45 minutes from General Santos. Established in 2007 as a venue to cultivate and share indigenous knowledge and traditions, Lamlifew (pronounced lam-lee-foe) is the only community-initiated museum in the Philippines endorsed by the National Museum. A traditional B’laan house displays authentic weapons, colorful garments, beadwork and musical instruments. At the Gumabal weaving house, women master the craft of creating tabih, an abaca textile similar to t’nalak of the T’boli, characterized by designs patterned after crocodile and snake skin.
Looking ahead, there will be more to come for travelers from this bountiful, diverse and progressive province. “Aside from beautiful scenery such as waterfalls, white sand beaches and mountain villages, Sarangani will soon offer more adventures such as paragliding and downhill biking,” reveals local travel blogger Darlyn Osanastre of beautifulmindanao.blogspot.com. As tourism advocates, cultural workers, historians and conservationists, the people of Sarangani restores and develops their identity with pride, passion and perseverance. Pacquiao may very well be its poster boy, but the true champions of this emerging frontier are, undoubtedly, the Sarangans themselves.
Welcome to my website! I’m travel writer, photographer and online influencer Edgar Alan Zeta-Yap from the Philippines. Join me as I hike, dive, fly, eat and do pretty much anything in between across 7,641 islands and beyond. Need to reach me? Please write me an email.