Friday, April 27, 2012

It's unfair for Tawi-tawi

I was surprised by how warm this island province was. Surprisingly warm. We were going down from Bongao Peak that early morning as hordes of people bearing picnic boxes were going up for the Saturday ritual. My Muslim companion was curiously inquiring as this was not typical of a Muslim community. It was a native practice, we were told.  

 I can’t imagine how the locals could climb up with their little kids hanging onto their arms, while I needed to rest after our first 10 minutes of hiking. A few old men greeted us a fine morning. It was steep and slippery. A friend even offered to carry my bag.

Standing on the highest point of Tawi-Tawi was magnificent. You can see bridges connecting some islands, the airstrip standing by, a plane taking off, waters enclosing us all, as if leaving this island was a no-coming-back. A few structures stood out from that height, mostly beach resorts owned by rich families.

Along the trek, we encountered some monkeys swinging from one branch to another. They were aloof, but bananas can win their trust. They reminded me of a scene from Planet of the Apes where the biggest of them all bully the rest in catching food. Nearby, a female was carrying an offspring underneath her belly; it was creepy to see two eyes staring upside-down. I tried to give her extra bananas because maybe she needed them more. 

Also joining the locals’ weekend expedition were fresh high school graduates whom it was the first time to hike Bongao Peak. I saw the excitement in their young eyes, the same kind I hold whenever I set foot in far-off places. 

Down the mountain, the beaches were equally serene, and the houses practically on water. And yes, household wastes go straight to the water. I wonder how the waters remain crystal clear.

What also draws me to Tawi-Tawi is the serene ambience of retreat houses where one can meditate and reflect on their life. In this peaceful town, approximately 23 crimes occur in a year. Imagine that! The police said that’s like the daily count in Manila.

Well, what was the last thing I heard about Tawi-Tawi? There were two foreign birdwatchers recently abducted and still unreleased by their captors. (Crazy as it seems, but incidents like these fail to unnerve me.) I was so prepared to be kidnapped, rehearsing my poker face. 

I find it unjust how Southern Philippines is generalized into a dreadful place: 

“…were abducted Wednesday during a bird-watching trip to Tawi-Tawi, the Philippines’ southernmost province. They were the latest kidnap victims in an impoverished region infested with al-Qaida-linked militants and criminal gangs that often seek ransom for their foreign hostages.” – 

An acquaintance said, “These are places we won’t normally want to visit.” How about Turtle Island, where one can lie on the pristine white sand and watch sea turtles come ashore and lay eggs? 

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