The bustle of Bongao

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Saturday, June 28, 2014


BONGAO is an island town of Tawi-tawi and like many tiny towns in the Philippines, the best place to explore is its marketplace.

First stop, the two dried fish stalls at the Chinese Pier, where live fish traders also abound. Just a short tricycle ride away is the main event – the public market – where be awed by the varieties and number of fishes being sold.

You will notice a lot of otherwise unknown commodities in their stores – Malaysian goods. After all, Tawi-tawi is nearer Malaysia than the Philippine mainlands.

Traders have through centuries been directly trading with nearby Sabah such that people in Bongao, are the least likely to be victims of the notorious human trafficking via the so-called backdoor, Bongao Mayor Jasper T. Que, although he admits that they are focusing their law enforcement on human trafficking since this is a major crime occurring in their tiny town. The victims are mostly out-of-towners. Desperate folks enticed with promises of high-paying jobs but ending up in sex dens and sweat shops.

On to the lighter side of life out there in their marketplace, notice too the low prices of high quality commercial rice. These too are from Malaysia, we were told. Their fragrant and with very few broken grains, you’d be tempted to bring home a sack or two. Thank God for limited baggage allowances in planes, the temptation was easy to walk away from.

It’s fun to walk around and listen to the cacophony of voices, most of which are in Tausug.

Once you’re done exploring the marketplace, cruise around the island for a quiet tour that will bring you through the coastal road where the blue waters invite you to take a dip.

You can either trek up Bud Bongao (or the Bongao Peak) or just walk around the villages on stilts. The people there are used to strangers you just have to look friendly.

The Sama settlements can be an interesting place to drop by as the Sama tribe is known for mat-weaving, and you might just chance on them weaving some.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on June 29, 2014.

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