Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Climbing Mt. Hamiguitan via Osmeña Trail in Governor Generoso

I was a dormant mountaineer for eight long months. My latest communions with the mountains were through trail running. It was only on November 19-20 where I retrieved my backpacking stuff and joined the Visit Davao Fun Sale (VDFS) group in Mt. Hamiguitan for an assessment climb. Over the weekend I rediscovered the mountain which I considered the most unique among all the mountains I climbed throughout my mountaineering years.

We are a team of veteran mountaineers headed by Sir Benjie Lizada, the Team Leader who happens to be the Executive Committee Chairperson of VDFS. I have been joining this group since February last year and with them I found a new company that resembles with my passion and ardour of the outdoors. Sir Benjie has also been looking at Davao Oriental as another destination to be included in next year’s version of VDFS for selling guided tours over the eastern parts of region XI.

We took the less-visited Osmeña trail in Governor Generoso, the one they fondly called “ligas-paka” trail because of the presence of some cliff portions and face-the-wall assault. For the inexperienced trekkers the trail could be very dangerous. From the trailhead we trekked approximately 12 kilometers starting from Purok 7 up to the Twin Falls, chasing the pristine Dumago-ok River where a lot of rock trails were traversed. Local tourism staff in GovGen even joked to me that their route is the “boulder face” of Mt. Hamiguitan.

Campsite 3 in the bonsai field is the convergence campsites for all trekkers be it from San Isidro or Governor Generoso. Some 2 hours hike from Purok 7 is the campsite 2, a usual overnight stopovers for GovGen trekkers. In our case we directly proceeded to camp 3 in day 1, but given with the difficulty of the trail our sweeper arrived in camp 3 around 11:30 in the evening. There were even two members of the team who were left in between camp 2 and Dumago-ok waterfalls which was accompanied by Tourism Officer Joey Gamao. They continued the hike the following day while we were already on our way down.

The two waterfalls along the trail which were vertically laid out into the rock walls of the mountain were incredible. The first one was part of the Dumago-ok river system and the other one, the more popular  Twin Falls, have maintained its radiance when I first saw it in 2008. The verdant setting of the environment has truly complemented with these water bodies that become Mt. Hamiguitan’s key attractions.

In a short span I also spotted several interesting flora and fauna in Mt. Hamiguitan. This mountain is considered to be a habitat of many life forms, some even endemic only in the area.  Most notable of which are the tropical pitcher plants and Lepidoptera.

I was the first to arrive in the bonsai field and although it was my second time in the mountain I was still amazed by its breath-taking scenery. As I observed, the bonsais were filled with life, not just ordinary life but life that dictates enchantment. I heard them whispering enthusiasm, conversing to me of gentle persuasions that they would continue living there for the rest of eternity as long as they would be protected and loved. Each and every bonsai that I saw had satisfied my urge to nature and everything else in the outdoors. 

As a UNESCO World Heritage site, Mt. Hamiguitan deserves to be given full attention and respect. No other places in the country that has the same attributes like this mountain and just like any other wonderful natural heritage sites Mt. Hamiguitan should be preserved.

At this point I would like to thank VDFS through Sir Benjie for inviting me to that climb. Gratitude is also due to the Local Government of San Isidro for assisting us, especially to Tourism Officer Joey and staff Clinton. The porters in Osmeña are good enough in accommodating guests and they have been praying for the reopening of the GovGen trail sooner than later as it would be an income booster for the community.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Sta. Cruz Mangrove Sanctuary and Secret Islands revealed

Just before this year closes out, we are bent on looking at two more tourism packages to be opened for public, at least before the month of November ends. The first one already being launched in October – the remarkable Throwback Tour Package showcasing the town’s history. The other one is the Island and Mangrove Cruise featuring scenic seascape of Bato, Tagabuli and Tuban.
We intend to make it a fun and learning destination because the site is a declared Marine Protected Area (MPA) by the LGU and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR). It has always been like that, making ecotourism a stage to increase resilience of marine ecosystem by being part of marine life conservation, protection and management. The MPA here is a 50-hectare area located in the border of Tagabuli and Tuban and another 25 hectares in Bato.

The Passig Islet docking point in Bato, which is manicured with huge mangrove forest and a boardwalk, serves as an anchorage area for the tour which features island hopping in Tagabuli’s secret islands. 

While cruising the vast coastal waters of Sta. Cruz you will be brought to an unspoiled mangrove sanctuaries in Tuban and Tagabuli. The little secret islands are must-stops for at least an hour or two not just to take pictures but to also study the symbiotic relationship of the island ecosystem to the upland areas of Sta. Cruz that serves as backdraft to this incredible seascape. The islands have no structures except for a shed provided by the Agriculture Office which serves as headquarters for fishery law enforcement officers. This means that no overnight stay is allowed in the islands.

The Tagabuli fish cages is another attraction that can be detoured during the cruise. Fish culture through cages is a prevailing industry in Tagabuli Bay, as this area is a harbour considered by the community as perfect for milkfish production.  While navigating the bay, one can also view the mountain ranges of Tagabuli, Melilia, Saliducon, Sinoron and even the towering Mt. Apo.

The last stop of this day tour is the popular Passig Islet in Bato. It is a 2-hectare white sandbar with open cottages and function hall and ideal for beach frolicking, bathing and sundown relaxation. The perimeter of Passig  are seaweeds farms which the locals of Bato have been doing through the years as a means of livelihood. 

The package tour costs 300 pesos per boat, which only includes guide fee and boat rental. The boat operator serves as your tour guide. The maximum capacity of the boat is 5 persons only. Guests are advised to bring foods and bottled water because there are no vendors in the islands. For tour bookings, please contact Lea through her cellphone number 09095517414 or Roy 09469212443. Please book ahead because the appropriate time to do the tour will be advised by them considering the time of high tide and low tide.

TRIVIA: Bato is the last barangay of Sta. Cruz going South. The next barangay after Bato is Sinawilan which already belongs to the City of Digos. Bato is the home place of now PNP Chief General Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Chronicling Sta. Cruz History with my Photographs

Aside from being the oldest town in Davao del Sur, I have known very few literature and equally few interest about my hometown’s history. Not until portions of Mt. Apo were burned last March. As a Tourism Officer I had to look for other tourism products to give alternative reasons for people to visit to this place other than climbing the highest mountain in the country.

As I gained curiosity with the history of Sta. Cruz based on further readings and personal interactions with some key informants in the town, I learned that ours is perhaps one of the most colourful in the entire Mindanao. The municipality of Sta. Cruz was an active participant in the making of Mindanao’s and Philippines’ histories. From the Spanish rule, to American regime, to Japanese occupation, to Philippine Independence, to Martial Law, to EDSA Revolution, Sta. Cruz’ story was intricately interwoven into the country’s saga.

This gulf town was originally called “Labo,” a Bagobo word which means “marshland”. Labo is situated between a confluence of two mountain streams where water were as clear as crystal and was but a short distance from the coast. Long before the Spaniards came, the Lumads or the natives Bagobo-Tagabawa inhabited Sta. Cruz that was mostly forested except in the Darong coast. More than a century-old municipality, Sta. Cruz was legally created last October 5, 1884 and it is the third oldest town in Mindanao.

According to pioneers, Sta. Cruz originated its name way back in 1880 when Spaniards planted a big cross under a shelter upon their failure to Christianize the settlers who continued to resist them. Another group of migrants settled adjacent to the cross which was near the municipal building site, the place came to be known as “SA CRUZ” which means “AT THE CROSS”. Official records from Manila Archives also described how Sta. Cruz got its name during the Spanish administration. It was documented that on October 4, 1884, Angel Rodriguez, Spanish Governor General of Mindanao Province arrived on board the warship “Garduqui” escorted by a sergeant, corporal and twelve persons from the capital detachment. They were greeted by both Christians and non-Christians bringing with them banners bearing the embroidered word STA. CRUZ. The next day (October 5), Rodriguez blessed the town STA. CRUZ SA MINDANAO. The territorial lands of Sta. Cruz prior to the division of Davao Province included municipalities of Digos, Bansalan, Magsaysay, Matanao, Kiblawan, Hagonoy, Sulop, Malalag and Sta. Maria.

Sta. Cruz might have a vibrant history but it is not supported with a very informative remainder. It is in this reason that I started looking for remnants all over the town. In April this year I had a personal quest to photo-document historical leftovers and validated each one of them through the inscribed records from all possible sources. And when we had our preparation for the 132nd Foundation Anniversary of the town, I tapped the dynamic group Davao Photographers Club (DPC) to help me in doing the job. We came up with a photo exhibit last October 1-5 and eagerly called it KAGIKAN showcasing photos of old structures and people in Sta. Cruz.

At this point, I would like to share some of my shots of old places and structures I gathered for almost seven months. The corresponding literature are a product of my eccentric researches and personal conversations with the direct families of the owners.

Municipal Hall Building. The Municipal Hall of Sta. Cruz is the very first town hall built in the entire Davao del Sur province. It was erected in 1938 during the administration of Mayor Mariano Pejo simultaneous with the other two structures Jose Rizal Monument and the Don Mariano Pejo Park Fountain.  These structures were built by Marble Works Construction Company. In front of the building was the same site where Spanish evangelizers arrived on board the warship “Gardoqui” led by Angel Rodriguez, a Politico General of Davao Province way back 1884.

Doña Matea Ancestral House. Established in 1930, Doña Matea Almendras-Ralota Ancestral House is one of the few ancient structures attesting that Sta. Cruz is the mother town of the province of Davao del Sur. It is located in Poblacion Zone 3. A migrant from Cebu, Doña Matea remarried to Bendigo and became matriarch to a clan of politicians namely: Almendras, Bendigo, Ralota and Cagas.

San Pedro Chapel Tuban. This edifice in Baybay, Tuban is said to be the foundation of Gagmayng Kristohanong Katilingban (GKK) in the history of the Roman Catholic Church in the world. A celebration of Holy Eucharist being administered by a PSL (Pangulo sa Liturhiya) was first held here on year 1957.

Dean Old House. This house was built in 1920s by the first appointed mayor of Davao del Sur Don Ciriaco Godoy. Godoy’s only daughter Doña Indeng married to a Dean husband which eventually made the house an ancestral abode of the Deans until today. During the World War II, the family transferred to Matan-ao and the Japanese soldiers occupied the house as their headquarters. When the Americans came, the family also reoccupied the house.

Melilia UCCP Mission School. This is the first structure after the Thomasites led by American missionary Rev. Robert Black introduced Protestantism. Black first preached the gospel to the Bagobos in Melilia in 1904 and it consequently became the bastion of United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and from it hailed the founders of Brokenshire Hospital of Davao and the Siliman University. The actual establishment of this structure was year 1909. It was called Robert Black Mission  School where Maximiano Tongcaling became the first Bagobo preacher.

Tuban Old Cluster Houses. This cluster of houses situated along the national highway of Barangay Tuban was built in 1950s by the early settlers of the place from a prominent clan of the Aguilar and Carriedo. Some older houses located in the opposite side are owned by some half-blooded Chinese as first settlers of the place.

Tan Kim Kee Estate Old Farm House. The house was built in 1911 primarily to be used as vantage site in monitoring the farm workers and the physical status of the Tan Kim Kee agricultural production area, who were among the families to have been allowed by the American Commonwealth to own cadastral property in Sta. Cruz per Cadastral Survey No. 275 paving the way for granting property rights. The highest mark of the house allowed the farm manager to oversee production of the wide area of coconut and cattle ranch. Owned by the Chinese Lim clan, Tan Kim Kee Estate is the largest agricultural area in the southern part of Sta. Cruz. From it was also a coconut solar dryer assembled which, according to pioneering farm workers, was converted by the Japanese soldiers into a salt warehouse as provocative site for their captives during the Japanese period. 

Saez Spanish House in Darong. This house was built in 1940s by Don Eliseo Saez, a Spaniard who came from Burgos, Spain. Before the coming of Don Eliseo, his brother Don Marcos Saez already owned a vast agricultural plantation. The Saez brothers were among the Spaniards who settled in Darong, which became the biggest Spanish Community in Southern Philippines if not Mindanao.

Balay ni Nonoy Pension House. The house was first built in 1950s that served as the home of former Mayor Amancio Bendigo. It was renovated in 1970s and now being used commercially as a pension house and office of the family’s real estate business.

Patulangon Old Guttierez House. This structure housed the Guttierez Family in Patulangon, Barangay Zone 1. It was erected in 1926. The Guttierez were among the early settlers in the town with Spanish roots led by their great grandfather Don Sergio Guttierez who hailed from Santander, Spain.

St. Joseph The Worker Parish. In the course of erecting new parishes in 1940 upon the request of Bishop Luis del Rosario, SJ, DD as part of their evangelization efforts in Mindanao; the St. Joseph The Worker Parish was established in Sta. Cruz (then still the entire Davao del Sur) along with the parish of Kingking. The first Parish Priest  was Fr. Leo Poirier, PME and the Assistant Parish Priest was Fr. Omer Leblanc, PME. The formal establishment of the parish structure was May 1941. Unfortunately, war broke out in December 1941 and the two priests fled to the mountains but later surrendered to the Japanese but were eventually killed in 1942 by the Japanese soldiers in Pikit, Cotabato. Although the parish has a new structure now during its 75th Jubilee celebration, St. Joseph The Worker Parish is a major contributor to the overall historical timeline of the Municipality of Sta. Cruz.

There are still many structures around the town but I have yet to visit them one by one because of time constraint. The Spanish houses in Astorga and Coronon are my next target and the old residents of the previous mayors in Sta. Cruz.

Truly, we have a rich history unfolding and with the LGU’s drive to encourage the owners of these structures to preserve them we could launch another interesting tourism product with history as the theme.