Eight years ago, our office had collaborated with the Department of Tourism to conceptualize a project that would preserve the culture of the Bagobo-Tagabawa tribe in Sta. Cruz and at the same time serve as a model cultural tourism destination in the entire Mindanao island. We envisioned that the project would somehow become one of a kind even in the country, where the community would take the overall leadership in the implementation phase and that they will be capacitated to do everything that they have especially in managing their rich cultural and natural attributes.
As a prevailing tribal group in the foothills of Mt. Apo, the Bagobo-Tagabawa of Tibolo and other nearby areas willingly accepted the program and have reciprocated whatever interventions we introduced. A certain Datu Ruben Ayoc, now a very good friend of mine, allowed us to use a portion of his land belonging to the Bagobo-Tagabawa Ancestral Domain for a project called Tibolo Cultural Village (TCV). We had minimal trouble doing the early phase of the project particularly on the community preparation phase but with the help of the Ayoc clan and other government offices, we succeeded the initial push. To set the tone, we started the program with the Padunggoe Sandawa, a gathering of all tribes in Mindanao held in 2006 and the host tribe was the Tibolo Tagabawa Community. It was indeed an exclamation point. A gun start that signalled the creation of the tribal village we aspired for.
Now, a lot of development interventions were already in place. We have received plenty of grants from national government agencies like the Department of Agrarian Reform, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, private sectors and lately from DOT’s Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) worth 10 million pesos for further site development. In an instance, Tibolo became a destination favoured by those who love to learn the Tagabawa culture and to commune with nature. And most of all, the program enabled the community to manage a community-based, culture-focused intervention that eventually improved the quality of life of the Tagabawa tribe residing within the territorial jurisdiction of their ancestral domain.
The 2-hectare cultural village today serves as a landmark of living indigenous cultural traditions, a venue for cultural exchange, life-long learning and techno-share, a center for culture-focused creative industry and trade, a learning site for conservation of cultural and natural resources, an abode for indigenous tribal leaders and a key stopover for mountain climbers and trekkers in Mt. Apo using the Sibulan Trail.
My latest visit to the TCV on July 23, 2015 was one of the worth visits I considered in my countless trips to Tibolo. I accompanied a team from the Department of Tourism headed by Regional Director Robby Alabado and staff Kai and Yetyet. Every time I visit this place, there is always something special. Tibolo for me is a home away from home. The people there I considered as a family already. With my frequent visits to the village, there were indelible marks left, the most notable was in 2009 when I struggled to survive in an incident that was very traumatic.
With the new structures erected by TIEZA, the village become even more captivating and colourful as it was surrounded by assorted floral varieties cultivated by the women group of the barangay. Director Alabado, being a bird watcher, had enough reasons to stay longer because bird species there are in abundance also. The Tibolo Women Association, a group we capacitated to handle enterprise activities, is still very much blooming to offer us their soothing native coffee and other native culinary including my favourites ludang, linotlot and chayote leaves salad.
While I roamed around the cottages, the flowers were at their highly-saturated colors. The ecologic activity was very obvious as insects freely took their time to kiss the elegant petals all throughout the village. They were unmindful of us, they were just in their usual state and we were left watching them as witnesses to their playground. The early afternoon rain added so much drama to the already-vivid environment. Very relaxing and mesmerizing.
In awe, RD Robby stayed the village longer than expected. He loved the village as much as I do. After a short conversation with the Tagabawa women, we left the place but with another level of urge to really go back after a month or two. With the ongoing rehabilitation and improvement of the road going to Tibolo from the DPWH-DOT convergence program to improve several roads leading to tourist destinations and with the effort to fix some flaws of the village’s accommodation facilities, I am sure a lot of people can visit the Tibolo Cultural Village later this year.