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Perking Up Interests on Sulu

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Half-a-week in Sulu was barely enough to explore what it has to offer:  a rich culture, a treasure of stories for a travelling journalist like me, and a wealth of research subjects.  But communications remain open, and with the pleasant flights I experience with AirPhil Express, I don’t see any constraint whatsoever for me to return.

I could not even feel that it had been a conflict zone, as I walked along its busiest streets, took photos, and moved around as freely as I could, smiling warmly to welcoming Tausugs.  I believe Sulu’s stigma as a scary, dreadful war-torn province should already be uprooted—perhaps, gradually, although necessity for its further development requires immediacy.

The abundance of fruits in Sulu—fresh produce from farms across the province—as well as its aroma-rich coffee, and not to mention the mouth-watering curacha that the gracious staff of Notre Dame prepared for me one dinner time, were enough to make me stay on, unmindful of the emails and notifications that my global work demand “urgently” beckoned me to do (read:  submit or act on).

Thank you, Governor Abdusakur Tan, for welcoming me to your province.  I am most appreciative as well for the exemplary hospitality of bright, familiar faces:  Director Fazlur-Rahman Abdulla of the Sulu Area Coordinating Center, his ever-active deputy, Jake Ajaron, Health provincial officer and concurrent Sulu Provincial Hospital Director Dr. Farrah Tan-Omar, the beautiful Dr. Charisma Ututalum (who was once my student), Interior and Local Government provincial director Sitti Kausar Sahijuan, provincial cooperative officer Dr. Sahiron Amirul, Lupah Su’g Advocates for Peace and Development acting executive director Alhadjar Abdulgafor, provincial transport officer Abdelmonel Aspi (who was also my student before), Pinky Chiong and Eric Alarcon both of the Philippine Red Cross-Sulu Chapter, Dr. Sammy Adju of the Moro National Liberation Front, Fatima Undug and Ibnorajan Indal of Notre Dame of Jolo College, Tricia Celine Ventura of the Voice of Mindanao-Sulu, personnel of the National Museum in Patikul, the PNP guys in Patikul and Maimbung, Conrad Agpaigan who does inter-agency relations tasks, my patient PNP escorts PO3 Sofia Haradji and PO3 Durriya Alfad (who made me smile when they thought they lost me twice), my newfound friends in Jainab ‘Dayang’ Pula, Nuron-Nahra ‘Yon’ Isad, and Lt. Col. Bimbo Quemado of the 2nd Marine Battalion Landing Team and his men in Talipao. And of course, thank you Bong Abing for making me laugh earlier on. Magsukul!

It was in Maimbung Park that Justin Bieber’s “Baby” welcomed me, as I took evening shots of Snow White (Sitti Puti) and the seven dwarfs, the happy children enjoying the swings and slides, and relaxed parents having quiet conversations in sections of the park.  Years ago, I had come to Maimbung for the coverage of the inauguration of the civil-military road project built by the US Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTFP), in partnership with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Gov. Tan did a remarkable thing in improving Maimbung town (his birthplace), continuing the road project so that Maimbung Road is now cemented to the boundary at least of Indanan (the birthplace of Rep. Lady Ann Sahidulla).

In Indanan, I took a quick look at the masjid where the late Commander Robot (Galib Indang) used to meet his men in Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).  The mosque has apparently long been abandoned but the structure remained—a quiet reminder of Sulu’s painful past.  But as I stared at its faded green-painted walls, I thought of the conversations that took place inside that mosque in the guise of Islamic prayers:  were they but planning meetings for a plotted atrocity, or were there stifled expressions of grievances that remained grievances till their death?

In Talipao, the MBLT2 guys and their commanding officer, LtC Bimbo Quemado, showed a transformed town, showcasing its nature-bestowed qualities.  We also briefly met visiting Civil Affairs battalion commander US Army LtC Steven Warman, reminding me of those eight years of reporting on the US military presence.

I did not like to leave Talipao, but neither did I also want to leave Patikul, where unreported and unwritten stories of history remain preserved.  It is to these places that I wish to return.

Sulu has more than perked up my interest indeed.  And why not?  It is not a hot spot this May 2013 election.  It is an awardee of the Galing Pook Foundation for good governance.  Well, that is my main story.  (Frencie Carreon in La Chica Viajera, for Zamboanga Today)

By Frencie L. Carreon




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