Thursday, October 11, 2007

Adventures in Sulu

Team Gordon Baguio had remarked that there was hardly anything posted on the internet about the island province of Sulu.

Scanning the internet just today brought me to this blog post about Sulu and thought I'd repost this article from the Mindanao Examiner for everyone to read.

The sad and sorry fact about common perceptions about Sulu, Basilan, and other so called 'war zones' in Mindanao is that these perceptions are fueled by anecdotes from people who have either not been to these provinces or reporters who have gone to these provinces to cover military operations conducted in these areas. Naturally, to a reporter covering armed conflict stories in these areas, the tendency is to label the areas they visit as a 'war zone' if only because that is they story they are focusing on and that is all they see. Reporters sometimes focus only on the story that will make the headlines and not necessarily the whole story. If they go to Sulu with the military, their editors or producers will expect them to come up with stories about military encounters with armed groups and not stories about the best mangosteens and durian in the pacific. These latter stories are perhaps more fit for other kinds of publications and shows, certainly not newspapers and radio or tv newsprograms. They won't sell paper or airtime or will it? This is why we think that The Mindanao Examiner should be commended for this post.

Senator Richard Gordon's recent visit to Sulu (in August and September) helped bring into clearer light the conditions in Sulu, Basilan, and other areas in Mindanao suffering from being called war zones. His vision for these areas have been talked about but have not been exhaustively discussed.

One vision is to fully harness the agricultural potential of Sulu, Basilan, North Cotabato, and other areas in Mindanao. Another vision is to promote these areas as tourist destinations.

Sen. Gordon's Fruits of Hope program has already begun to break the negative perceptions about these provinces. People tasting the mangosteens, lanzones, durian, and marang coming from Sulu and North Cotabato have begun to think of these provinces as sources of premium exotic fruits. Beyond fruit, Sulu offers the most delicious organically grown coffee and the biggest, tastiest lobsters -- better than Palawan's. North Cotabato also has great goat meat -- not the usual goatmeat you'd find in Manila with all the bits of bone and sinew, but real goat meat that is all meat and tender.

Some have laughed at the idea of promoting Sulu, Basilan, and North Cotabato as tourist destinations. But laughing at the idea just betrays more of their ignorance about tourists and tourist destinations. Consider Mexico and the idea that fugitives are always said to go for its border when they are trying to escape the law, then consider Cancun. Consider Sao Paolo in Brazil, consider places in South Africa, etcetera... A great number of tourists, besides looking for some relaxation, are also looking for exoticism and adventure.

What can be more adventurous and exotic than Sulu? Think about it. Boracay is fine on any other day, everybody I know has been there. But if you're looking for some really great pictures and some really great stories to tell, you gotta go to places that people haven't been to before and then think about Sulu.

And, while we are on this topic, did you know that Sulu was once at the center of the Majapahit Empire, which was among the greatest empires in Asia around the 15th century?

Anyway, enough of this, if you want to read more about Sulu... here's the story from the Mindanao Examiner.

Sulu Province – The Land Of Treasures

SULU, Philippines - Far-flung Sulu is the southernmost part of the Philippines, lying between the Sulu Sea on the north and the Celebes Sea on the south. With fishing as its most important industry, it is classified as a First Class Province in terms of income.

The glorious Sulu Sea is dotted with coral reefs, such as the pearl farm at Marungas Island, and provides some of the world’s best dive spots. Tubbataha Reef is its best known site, a 33,200-hectare underwater splendor drawing divers from all over the world with its marvelous marine wilderness and special ecosystem.

Because of its fabulous beauty, the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park was honored by UNESCO in December 1993 as the first natural site in the Philippines to be inscribed in the prestigious World Heritage List.

It is the best known site in the Sulu Sea, drawing divers from all over the world with its underwater splendor and the rich marine life that abounds in the reef. Snappers, sweet-lips, groupers, angel fish, and morays can be found amid huge fan corals and sponges.

Large schools of barracudas, jacks, rainbow runners, and surgeons pass by while tunas race about.

The Sulu provincial capital is Jolo town. Its walled city is the smallest in the world, with its historic brick walls that lay proof to the city’s historic past.

Another attraction of the city is the Provincial Capitol with its moorish-inspired architectural design.

The province nurtures a harmonious coexistence of the two most dominant religions in the Philippines, Islam and Catholicism. There are beautiful Muslim mosques situated in each village, most notable being the majestic Tulay Mosque which now towers the Sulu skyline.

The existing churches of Christian faith in the province are the Jolo Parish Church, Sacred Heart of Jesus Chapel, and Jolo Evangelical Church.


Sulu consists of over 400 scattered and almost isolated islands, stretching from the tip of Zamboanga southwestward towards Borneo.

It forms one of the three connections of the Philippines with Sabah. Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan is planning to convert some of these islands into world-class resorts because of their pristine and white sand beaches to help promote tourism.


Sulu is outside of the typhoon belt. Its climate is warm. Humidity is generally moist, but precipitation is constant throughout the year. February is considered the coldest month while May to August are the hottest, with mean relative humidity of 86%, one of the hottest in the country.

January to April is considered the dry period, with a monthly average of 7 to 9 inches of rainfall. The mean annual temperature is 26 degrees centigrade and the maximum is 27 degrees centigrade.

Language and Dialect

The principal dialect of the natives of Sulu is Tausug. The rest speak Samal and other dialects such as Visayan, Chavacano and Tagalog. English is widely spoken in Sulu.

Major Industries

While there is an absence of huge mineral deposits, Sulu nevertheless abounds in marine and timber resources and is believed rich in fossil fuel. Lying outside the typhoon belt, it is blessed with a year-round bounty from both land and sea.

Due to the character of the soil and climate, the province of Sulu grows a greater variety of products than any other part of the country. In addition to all the crops of the islands, which are abaca, coconut, and fruits like oranges, lanzones, and jacks, other fruits that do not grow in the northern islands are harvested here, such as the mangosteen berries and durian.

In September, some six tons of mangosteen and durian were shipped out to supermarkets in Manila and the fruits were completely sold out in hours. The shipment, Sulu Gov. Tan says, is part of the Fruits for Hope program. The international non-government organization, the Asia-American Initiative and Filipino Senator Richard Gordon also helped in the Fruit for Hope program.

Fishing is the most important industry. Sea turtles and fish of all kinds are caught. Otherwise the people engage in the industries of boat building, mat weaving, coffee processing, and fruit preservation (durian and mangosteen).

Trepang and pearls are extensively gathered in Sulu. Trepang, also called bĂȘche-de-mer, is a sea cucumber of the genus Holothuria of the southern Pacific and Indian oceans, and is often dried or smoked for use as an ingredient in soup, especially in China and Indonesia. (Department of Tourism/Sulu Provincial Tourism Council)