TAWI-TAWI'S people and culture are one grand showcase. It is something we, as a nation, should take pride of.

The island province of Tawi-tawi, the southernmost frontier of the Philippines, is best visited in September, the month when its people celebrate the Agal-Agal Festival and Kamahardikaan Sin Tawi-tawi or its founding anniversary celebration.

This year, the provincial government of Tawi-tawi, Department of Tourism – Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (DOT-Armm) upped the ante in celebrating the province’s annual festival in a bid to make Tawi-Tawi an ecotourism hub.

The celebration centers wih the theme "Tawi2 at 44: A Balance Ecotourism Hub for a Diversified Culture".

The weekong celebration took place last September 21-27 in Languyan town, Tawi-Tawi.

The focus was to highlight a product attached to Tawi-tawi’s name, the Agal-agal or seaweeds.

During the Agal-Agal Festival, the province gives honor and celebrates the seaweed’s role in Tawi-Tawi’s development and livelihood of its people.

“This is a cultural extravaganza showcasing Agal-agal, it is our way of showing the world who and what we are in Tawi-Tawi. This is also the time when we express our unity amid diversity through the festival,” Mobin Gampal, provincial tourism officer, said in an interview with SunStar Davao.

He added that Tawi-Tawi, for years, has been a melting pot of culture and tribe. It is fast fast becoming an ecotourism hub, underscoring balance in growth and sustainability.

About 80 percent of Tawi-Tawians are earning from seaweed farming.

Seaweeds are sold to extract a gelling and stabilizing substance used widely in dairy and meat products called carrageenan.

The province is home of Sama, Badjao, JamaMapun and Tausug. These colorful and rich groups were also highlighted during the festival through a vibrant street dancing competition participated by the province’s municipalities where three emerged as winners: Simunul, Sapa-Sapa and Bongao who claimed P1 million each as prize for their well-executed and creative performances.

The province allocated P20 million budget for the weeklong celebration.

Tawi-Tawi governor RashidinMatba, in a separate interview, shared that they are geared towards ecotourism as a focus industry to lift the economic situation of the province.

“There is much potential in store for Tawi-Tawi. If you really are to look at it, the province is a place that we can be proud of, especially in tourism, it is home to pristine and unspoiled beaches, diverse culture and a place rich in history,” Matba said.

He added that they are intensifying tourism marketing efforts and fast-tracking the developments of infrastructures.

“We hope that with all these efforts we can downplay the war-torn image of Mindanao especially in Armm. We need these tourism activities to counter these wrong perceptions about Tawi-Tawi,” he said.

DOT-Armm regional secretary Ayesha Vanessa Hajar M. Dilangalen said that Tawi-Tawi is one of the focused tourism areas in the region and she vowed to make Agal-Agal Festival bigger and better next year.

She disclosed that the province gathered 70,000 tourists from January to July this year.

“We are gaining more tourists now. Last 2016 we recorded 60,000 tourists who visited Tawi-Tawi but now we already surpassed that record,” she said.

The regional secretary added that several hotel firms plan to invest in the province to seize tourism opportunities in the area.

While the stigma on security threats attached with Tawi-Tawi is well-founded due to the peace situation in its neighboring island provinces, it is also imperative that we, as citizens, should not exaggerate things that would blacken, even more, the image of this paradise-like province. Its people want progress and we, as a nation, should help achieve it in whatever possible way we can.