Somewhere on September 2004 in the middle of implementation of a European Union-funded project called Upland Development Programme (UDP) in Southern Mindanao where Sta. Cruz was one of the project beneficiaries, the UDP had commissioned a Davao-based Non-Government Organization PCEEM (People Collaborating for Environmental and Economic Management in Davao Foundation, Inc.) to conduct a survey of Mt. Sibulan relative to its environmental component program. The survey was an initial step for a more comprehensive forest protection and rehabilitation program as envisioned by UDP, where remaining forest had to be strictly protected through policy formulation and implementation.
As the lead implementer of UDP in the local government level, I joined the climb along with some other LGU personnel from different offices. The climb enabled us to personally see the pristine environment of Mt. Sibulan, the infinite flows of Sibulan River and the virgin forest of the mountain range which was marked by the presence of assorted flora and fauna. Indeed, Mt. Sibulan is one of the few remaining unspoiled forest areas in Sta. Cruz.
We spent our first day at the then infamous Barangay of Tibolo, perhaps considered by our guides as the most accessible entry point to our target forest destinations. We passed through the hostile route from Lower Tibolo all the way to the Tibolo-Sibulan border (now part of the Boulder Face Challenge route), although we already started gathering route and point coordinates through our GPS equipment. Tibolo and Sibulan are separated by a small stream, a tributary of Sibulan River. As barangay authorities told, Tibolo was just a sitio part of Barangay Sibulan before it was created as a separate barangay unit.
We enjoyed trekking the trail highlighted by vertical clips, steep terrain and muddy jungle. Our next overnight stop was sitio Landig 1 of Sibulan where we stayed at a house of one of the guides. As we were served by a soothing native coffee of the Bagobo tribe, we took time to familiarize Landig1, including all the surrounding mountainscape visible in the place. The guide’s house was actually the highest point in the sitio, that’s why we were able to witness the very beautiful scenery brought about by the fine late afternoon weather. The panoramas included Davao Gulf, the District of Toril and the towering Mt. Apo in the north point.
On our third day, we continued the survey to three more sitios including Gurem, Landig 2 and Dariango. Even with the assistance of local folks as guides, we still found it very hard to locate sitio boundaries due to the very thick forest vegetation. My friend from PCEEM was even stung by a super bee while reading a GPS coordinate. The other guide suffered cramps as we tried to overcome a very steep trail when we traversed from sitio Landig to Gurem. We were also able to witness several wild pig foot prints along the way, proof that the forest was still unblemished. Truly, these mountain ranges deserve special conservation efforts.
Just before we headed to Barangay Sibulan Proper, we took time to rest at a bamboo foot bridge of Sibulan river, a border point between Landig and sitio Tungcaling. That was a decade ago and Sibulan River was still really very captivating. The strong rapids were evident as it cascaded downstream amidst huge rock formations of the river. The river perimeter was also manicured with the tall and green trees.
Ten years ago, Sibulan was still a quite place where only the chirping of birds and sekadas prevails and the sound of river current outmaneuvering the temptation of commercial destruction. It was the time when local folks communicated their neighbors with a scream of their mouths and not the disturbing ring tones of cellular phones. It was the time when people in the mountain still prefer horse-aided transportation over the gasoline-filled jeepneys and other types of vehicles. It was the time when Bagobo tribe was original, not a simulation.
Truly, gone are those days. Sibulan now is slowly but surely changing its identity. With the sprouting of industrial interventions in the place, the forest that we surveyed before had already been part of the collateral damages and I think there is something more to come similar to that. The upstream portion of Sibulan River is no longer attractive. The forest cover in Landig, Gurem and Dariango is in danger and severe threat.
The survey climb by PCEEM is one of the many climbs I considered very important to my life. Although personally I cannot directly effect the desires that I wanted especially in conservation and protection of the area, I am still thankful that I was one of the few mountaineers who have witnessed Mt. Sibulan and Tibolo in its flawless state.