The southernmost frontier of the Philippines, the Province of Tawi-Tawi just recently celebrated its 44th Founding Anniversary. The celebration is called Kamardikaan Sin Tawi-Tawi. One of the major highlights of the celebrated is the Agal-Agal Festival which is said to be the only seaweed festival in Mindanao and perhaps the entire country.
I have so many beautiful stories to tell you about my travels to the southernmost province of the Philippines, the fascinating island province of Tawi-Tawi. Stories that have occupied a special place in my heart. Stories that have concreted how beautiful and amazing this part of Mindanao really is. Beautiful stories that reflect not only beauty of Tawi-Tawi but the goodness of its people and the richness and colorful their culture is. Along with those thousands of people who were once lured to come to Tawi-Tawi, I will share my exciting stories about my wonderful experience romancing the pristine and natural magnificence of this province I consider as “the southernmost jewel of the country”.
From the charming islands and islets dotting the seas of Tawi-Tawi to the breathtaking peak of its tallest mountain, from the flavorful traditional cuisines of its people to their colorful dances and lively music, from the busy pier of Bongao to the bustling barter trade of Panglima Sugala, from the stilt houses of Badjao to the peace loving town of Simunul, from the sand bars of Panampangan to the awe-inspiring Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area – amazing things that are truly and uniquely Tawi-Tawi’s.
It’s almost a year since I started traveling and documenting the many amusing and awe-inspiring sights to see and experience in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). From beaches to mountains, lagoons to lakes, islands to highlands, traditional cuisines to colorful weaves, exhilarating adventures to peaceful immersion to its people – these are just some of the many many amazing things I learned and experienced wandering to its charming provinces and municipalities.
Allow me to share to you some of my humble journeys to some of the remotest places in the country found in this region. These are wonderful places that have remained unexplored, raw and pristine to this day.
I hope this will entice you to come to this part of our country, the Philippines, and experience that kind of thrill, fun and happiness I feel while going to these places. There are actually more to experience, more to enjoy, more to discover.
This is “ARMMazing DESTINATIONS | THE TRAVEL TELLER’S TOP PICKS”.
I have so many beautiful stories to tell you about my recent trip to the southernmost province of the Philippines, the enthralling island province of Tawi-Tawi. Stories that are often unnoticed and neglected because most of the times what we hear are stories of conflict, disorder and adversities fed to us by what we hear, read and see on the news. And because of that, the real picture that reflects about Tawi-Tawi, its natural beauty, culture and people, is sadly ignored.
So today, along with those thousands of people who were once lured to come to Tawi-Tawi, I will share my exciting stories about my wonderful experience romancing the pristine and natural magnificence of this province I consider as “the southernmost jewel of the country”.
From the charming islands and islets dotting the seas of the Province to the breathtaking peak of the Province’s tallest mountain, from the flavorful traditional cuisines to the colorful lively music and dances of the tribe, from the busy piers of Bongao to the bustling barter trade of Panglima Sugala, from the stilt houses of Badjao to the peace loving town of Simunul – amazing things that are truly and uniquely Tawi-Tawi’s.
For many, when they hear about Tawi-Tawi, what come instantly to their minds are those negative impressions they hear about the Province. Some still fear. While others are wondering what’s in this Island province that some are lured to visit. The fact is there are people who despite the negative things they hear about these group of islands, they still find their way to face their fears, travel for miles and discover the many wonderful things about this southernmost jewel of the country. They are the brave, the adventurous, and the thrill seekers – people who love to explore the unexplored, to tell stories about places and people that are often neglected, people who love off-the-beaten-path journey.
So those who are brave, adventurous and thrill-seekers, they are the luckiest for they are favored to see and experience a different kind of destination where nature and culture are both at their best – the best of Tawi-Tawi.
Having said that, I considered myself as among the luckiest as I got the rare opportunity to experience the simple yet commendable lives of its people, savored the mouthwatering flavors of their tribe that reflect the richness of their culture, marveled at the many pristine natural wonders that have stuck in my head even until now.
I’ve gone to some of the beautiful islands in the Philipines. I must say each possesses a distinct characteristic that makes it unique from other islands. And Tawi-Tawi’s are among the best example of those that are most pristine and beyond beautiful.
Like a precious treasure, Tawi-Tawi is a bedazzling gem that when carefully polished, it will shine and even outshines other gems we have in the archipelago. Composed of 11 municipalities, Tawi-Tawi offers a variety of destinations that a traveler would certainly love to explore – they got caves which is said to be rock shelters in ancient times, mountain peaks that offer commanding view of Tawi-Tawi’s landscape and seascape, rich history and culture to learn from, delectable indigenous food that is served until now, hundreds of island and islets to visit and enjoy, and many many more.
Of the 11 towns of the province, I made to visit the four. These four towns teem with different attractions that best describe the sights, the vibe and the feel of Tawi-Tawi. I must say that even with these four towns alone, one’s visit to Tawi-Tawi is assured of much delight.
Bongao is the capital town of Tawi-Tawi. It also serves as the gateway to the Province. This town is a little charmer. The most imposing landmark one can find in this busy town is the Bud Bongao. About 340-meter above sea level, it is the highest peak in the entire Province. Bud Bongao is believed to be a sacred mountain possessing special healing powers. In fact, locals including other residents from other towns would come to Bongao, hike up to the top of the mountain and pray. They considered it as pilgrimage site.
The majestic peak of the Bud Bongao offers the breathtaking view of the Bongao town. It also offers the commanding view of the vast blue seas of Celebes as well as the beautiful islands and islets dotting the seascape. They say you’ve never been to Bongao if you have not trekked this iconic mountain. Bud in Sama means Mountain.
Bongao being the capital town is the trade center of the Tawi-Tawi. It is also the busiest town among other municipalities. One of the most interesting trading sites in the town is the old Chinese Pier where seafood, dried fish and even agricultural produce are sold at very low prices. History has it that the Chinese Pier is the same spot where early trading with the Chinese merchants and locals took place hundred years ago.
Tawi-Tawi is where the seed of Islam was planted. It was in the island town of Simunul where Islam was first introduced in 1380. It was an Arab missionary named Sheik Karimul Makhdum who brought Islam to the island and was widely embraced by the people and was spread to the other parts of the country.
Following the introduction of Islam to Simunul was also the establishment of the first mosque in the country. As years passed by, the mosque has gone several renovations but the four wooden columns of the original structure are left standing on the same spot, well-preserved inside the Mosque.
Today, the mosque is recognized as a National Historical Landmark. Every 7th of November, locals and other Muslims in the country would come to this part of Tawi-Tawi to commemorate the anniversary of its establishment. This year marks the 636th year of its establishment. The mosque is named after Sheik Karimul Makhdum and is called Masjid Makhdum.
Panglima Sugala used to be the capital town of Tawi-Tawi long before it was changed to Bongao. It is endowed with wide and fertile agricultural land making it as the province’s food basket. Such paved the way for the town’s traditional way of barter system called Pagtabuh-tabuh where agricultural products are offered in exchange for marine products or seafood, and vice versa.
This bustling trade is popular not only in the town of Panglima Sugala but even in the other towns of Tawi-Tawi. Every Saturday, farmers and fisher folks would converge in the Batu-Batu’s public market for Pagtabuh-tabuh. Even merchants from nearby towns of Bongao and Sapa-Sapa would come to buy the local’s product sold at very low prices.
Local delicacies are also available at some sari-sari stores in Batu-Batu Market. If you’re lucky, you’ll find some stores selling bawlo, junay, putli mandih and other traditional delicacies of the Tawi-Tawi.
Beautiful islands and gorgeous islets abound in the waters of Sapa-Sapa. Most of these islands remain untouched, some are even uninhabited. Sea beds of the shallow waters are pure white sand. When hit by the sunlight, the waters turn blue to green. At one glance, it looks like a large magnificent swimming pool. Cruising onward, groups of islets that seem to sprout from the seas are sights to behold. If only I had the luxury of time, I would hop from one islet to the other just to relish these southern jewels of the country. The most famous island in entire town is the Panampangan Island. It is a small island surrounded entirely by fine white sands. Adjacent to the Island is a white sand bar. During low tide, this sand bar serves as a way to access the gorgeous islets nearby.
Adding to the gorgeousness of these islands are the stilts houses of the Badjao that have stood still and sturdy against the tides of Tawi-Tawi crystal clear waters. Since time immemorial, the seas of Tawi-Tawi have been the Badjao’s sacred home providing them everything they need. I wish one day, in one of my visits to Tawi-Tawi, I will have the chance to live in one of these stilt houses even for one day. I think it is beautiful.
There are other countless amazing destinations to discover in Tawi-Tawi. Sadly I only had a very little time. Three days are not enough to explore more of what this gorgeous group of island has to offer. Wandering around seeing these unblemished splendors is something that my heart rejoices even to this time of writing. In fact, I will run out of words to describe the things that I saw and experienced the whole time that I was here. I even told myself how lucky I am to be given this great opportunity to be in this place seeing and doing all these things that truly speak the beauty and culture of Tawi-Tawi. I wish everyone has the opportunity to see and experience Tawi-Tawi the way I do.
My heartfelt gratitude to the awesome people who made my trip to Tawi-Tawi very remarkable. Shouting out my thousand thanks to Secretary Ayesha Mangudadatu Dilangalen of Department of Tourism – ARMM for this invitation to experience the vibe and life of Tawi-Tawi. Same goes to her awesome DOT-ARMM team who works hard to promote ARMM as an amazing destination to explore. Also, to other Regional Secretaries of Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao I met during this trip, thank you so much. You are all #ARMMazing.
MAGSUKOL to the Provincial Government of Tawi-Tawi headed by Governor Rashidin Matba. Thank you for sharing to us your precious time and for letting us see and appreciate the beauty of Tawi-Tawi. Thank you for your warmth and hospitality. May your tribe increase.
TAWI-TAWI is truly a jewel of the south waiting to be discovered. Magsukol TAWI-TAWI!!!
Tawi-Tawi has always been in my bucket list. Despite remoteness and damaging impressions about it, there’s always something about this province that entices me to go there. And so when I was invited to a special trip to this southernmost part of the country, I did not hesitate to say yes. Going there means taking Tawi-Tawi off my bucket list and learning firsthand, Smart Techocart, a Digital Laboratory in a Cart.
SMART TECHNOCART is a CSR project of Smart Communications, Inc. under its Education program. It is a complete mobile laboratory designed to enable learning and teaching through the use of mobile education solutions, such as tablets and Internet technology, for Kindergarten pupils.
This mobile lab in a cart is given to select Public Schools with kindergarten classes of at least 150 students or 25 students per class. Currently, there are 12 public schools all over the country that are recipients of Smart Technocart. These are schools are in Bacolod, Cebu, Albay, Parañaque, and Pangasinan. The latest beneficiaries are three public schools in the Province of Tawi-Tawi.
A non-traditional laboratory that can be easily wheeled from one classroom to the next, each Smart TechnoCart contains 20 seven-inch tablets, a laptop, a projector, and a Smart BRO pocket WiFi that comes with an initial load for Internet connectivity. Its compact and portable design makes it easy for the teacher to transfer the laboratory from one classroom to another.
When the Smart Technocart was delivered to Bato-Bato Central School, Datu Halun Laboratory School, and Provincial Housing Laboratory School in Tawi Tawi, there was a feeling of sheer excitement and hope in the community not only among the teachers but also the students and parents. The kindergarten pupils were eager to hold for the first time tablets and experience digital learning.
Teacher Rosalyn Sansawi of Datu Halun Laboratory School recalled the reaction of her pupils the first time they held the tablets. She saw their enthusiasm and motivation to learn using the gadgets. Even if one tablet was shared by three pupils, the school kids were willing to share and learn lessons using the mobile devices.
Teacher Fatima Hadjuk of Provincial Housing Laboratory School considered Smart Techonocart as a huge blessing not only their pupils but to the teachers as well. It lessens their workload and enhances their way of teaching. With use of the interactive technology, the students are more engaged in learning. Being visual, kids become more attentive. In fact, absenteeism has lessened and pupils always look forward to their lab classes.
One of the features that make the Smart TechnoCart unique and appealing to students is the localized content of the mobile application called Batibot, which is aligned with the kindergarten curriculum. Developed by Smart in collaboration with the Community of Learners Foundation and startup partner OrangeFix, the Batibot app has interactive features like the classic game “Alin Ang Naiba,” where children are asked to identify what is different from a group of objects and pictures. Kindergartners can also practice writing by tracing letters on their device, and sing along to Batibot songs via the app’s videoke feature.
Smart Community Partnerships Senior Manager, Stephanie Orlino said that since they began deploying Smart TechnoCarts in August, they received numerous positive feedback from teachers. One teacher in Albay said that her students now find learning so exciting that they go to school even when classes are suspended. They look forward to using the Batibot app on the tablets.
I was given the chance to roam around Bongao City, the capital of Tawi-Tawi and saw the need for the delivery valuable assistance to make it more progressive – not just from the government but even from the private sectors. It is good to know that Smart is giving its share by taking an active part in enhancing the learning the school kids in Tawi-Tawi. My salute to Smart.
To know more about Smart’s education initiatives, as well as how to sponsor Smart TechnoCarts for schools, please visit www.smart.com.ph/learnsmart