I relish writing positive narratives about Sulu. It badly needs it. It diverts the mindset of readers about the place being the capital of terrorism, home of the dreaded Abu Sayyaf bandits and sleeper cells of Islamic States-inspired faith-based terrorists. Such branding has almost converted the province into a pariah place, a black eye to an otherwise picturesque tourist destination. The following is the brighter side of the coin.
Few weeks back, there was a report in mainstream broadsheet about Sulu Governor Abdusakur “Sakur” Tan Sr. developing the tourism potential of the area. It’s about time. The potential tourist attractions are there waiting to be developed into a competitive destination. The place is perfect for cultural, leisure, vacation and eco-tourism. The negative peace climate unfortunately pollutes thoughts of attracting outliers to the place. And this is the challenge which local government and the men in blue has to face.
A throwback when I was Undersecretary of Tourism, I was tasked by then Secretary Mina Gabor to prepare a Tourism Plan for Mindanao. It was a huge task but I was aided by a Task Force created for the purpose. We came out with a tome of documents, feasibility studies, data, timeline and plan of action. And I remember distinctly that a big part of it was developing the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawitawi, what we now call “BASULTA.” It was this plan that paved the way for the grant of the request of then Governor Nur Misuari of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao for tourism funding support for Sulu.
Few weeks later, the Tourism Plan folder we prepared was returned by the Office of the President to my office with the signature red-inked marginal note “CSW” of President Ramos, meaning the project needs complete staff work, as if the plan was still raw. The project was overtaken by events but the desire of government to develop the tourism potential of the south remained waiting for reboot.
What has Sulu to sell in the tourism market?
Its natural fine white sand beaches remain unspoiled and undeveloped. In fact, it could compete with that of Boracay. On any given day, its shores are adorned by vintas with multi-colored resplendent sails by sea-faring natives whose name is derived from the sea. They just need bayside hotels, restaurants and coffee shops to complete the picture of a Mediterranean-like tourist hub. The natural comforting ambience is a come-on for investors. Moro professional and former Board Member Ramon Sarapuddin said that one of those to be marketed is the Manisan beach in Banguingui Municipality, the home of the native Sama-Banguingui, historic people who fought the Spanish conquistadores back in the olden times.
We noticed recently that the cycle of violent incidents in Sulu dished out regularly in media outlets has been tempered. If this continues, according to Governor Sakur, the mountain ranges with natural caves where lawless elements used to hide their kidnapping prey or seek protection from pursuing government forces will be developed for eco-tourists who are hooked by the fascination of the floras and fauna that abound in the forests. He mentioned Mount Tukay, Bud Talipao, and Mount Sinumaan as ripe for promotion as potential destinations for tourist-trekkers.
Tan was also quoted as claiming that the province offers “the best of exotic fruits such as the native durian, mangosteen and sweet lanzones, aside from the fresh seafood which naturally abound in the province.” Lately, he beams with optimism that tourism could jack up the local economy with residents now preparing for small-scale businesses that will cater to tourists.
Sakur is a visionary who believes that one of the principal causes of unpeace in his province is poverty. Liberate them from the morass of poverty and you free them from evil mindset. Tourism receipt is a major factor in achieving his vision.
Paging the Department of Tourism and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Government for funding support. Every cent of support counts.