Monday, November 26, 2007
By Edwin G. Espejo
Sun Star Philippines
THIS time the ride was fast and easy. Touching down Tahuna airport at 12 minutes past 10 in the morning Wednesday last week was a breeze.
It was a clear sunny day and the weather was excellent.
As soon as we disembarked from the Fokker 50 plane of the Philippine Air Force, we were met by a full brass, nay bamboo, band from our host Sanghirees.
For Eastern Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Cardozo Luna, it was his first ever trip to the island city of Tahuna, part of the Sanghire Regency of the province of North Sulawesi. So was it for General Santos City mayor Pedro Acharon.
It was the second visit this year for Sarangani Governor Miguel Rene Dominguez.
The North Sulawesi province of Indonesia is Mindanao's nearest neighbor in this part of Southeast Asia with the Marore Island just a little over 40 nautical miles from the town of Balut Island in Davao del Sur. So near is Tahuna that traveling to Cebu from Davao takes longer by 12 minutes.
Okay, the Tahuna airport looks more like an airstrip but Sanghire Regent Winsulangi Salindeho said our aircraft was the first-ever international flight that landed in the island, which early this year celebrated its 548th foundation anniversary.
A former Dutch colony, Tahuna Island looks every bit like any province in Mindanao except for the chinkee trees which leaves are major ingredients to the distinctively aromatic Indonesian cigarettes Filipinos here in the Socsksargen area either love to puff or hate to smell.
On our way to a 17-kilometer winding ascent and descent ride from the airport to the city proper, rows of aged coconut, nutmeg and chinkee trees lined up the road and deep into the mountains.
With a population of just over 100,000, Tahuna is relatively prosperous and life is laid back. Policemen carry no guns and Christians and Muslims in the island live in peace and harmony.
It is strategically located along the migratory path of major tropical tuna fish specie and thus serves as an important forward post for the Indonesia government.
Its proximate location to Mindanao, however, also makes Tahuna a potential trading and fishing industry partner for businessmen in the Socsksargen area.
It is no coincident that many Filipino fishermen have been arrested and detained in Tahuna for going astray into and fishing in Indonesian waters.
When we made a stopover at the Tahuna port, six Filipino fishing boats were still moored there, confiscated by the Indonesian authorities and their crew detained.
A week earlier, 20 Filipino fishermen were repatriated and 10 more were scheduled to finally go home aboard a Philippine Navy ship that docked at the port to end a three-day joint border patrol exercise with its counterpart in the Indonesian Naval Forces.
The Sangihe regency of Indonesia shares historical and trading ties with the island of Mindanao.
Sarangani province and its bay, where more than 4,000 Sanghire residents are registered, and the nearby Sarangani Island of Davao del Sur in fact derived their name from the Malay dialect meaning 'come here'.
North Sulawesi governor S. M. Sarundajang said some the Philippines and Indonesia have more than 5,000 root Malay word that they share in common.
The Marore and Miangas islands of North Sulawesi were historically part of the Philippine territory under the Treaty of Paris, just as Sabah was once part of the Sultanate of Sulu.
But for some political blunders, the Marore and Miangas islands were ceded, by default, to Indonesia during an assembly meeting of the United Nations more than 50 years ago.
Indonesian journalist Andreas Harsono even listed the Miangas Island as the one Mindanao area he had gone to during a workshop of Southeast Asian journalists held in Eden Nature Park early this month.
Harsono said the Indonesian government is planning to build an airstrip in Miangas Island. This was confirmed Sarundajang during our brief visit last November 21.
When I went to Tahuna for my first travel abroad in January this year, our party had to endure the rough seas during a 12-hour trip on board a private yacht where 76 of us were cramped in a space comfortable only for 25 people.
The trip was a reciprocal visit organized by the provincial government of Sarangani and the Sarangani Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Looking forward to increased trade and commercial ties, the delegation then headed by Sarangani governor Miguel Rene Dominguez signed a memorandum of understanding with the local government and chamber of commerce of Tahuna City.
The memorandum includes border crossing, trade and educational agreements and cultural and educational exchanges.
By then, Tahuna traders have already been exporting copra products to Cargill Philippines in General Santos.
Most of Tahuna City's consumer products, particularly kitchen wares and fishing accessories, are imported from the cities of Davao and General Santos.
Why, there is even a small place named after the famous Gaisano chain of department stores in the heart of Tahuna's business district. At the store, owned by Chinese Indon nationals, you could swap your peso for the rupiah as banks in the island don't offer foreign exchange other than the American dollar and Japanese yen.
Tahuna residents are hospitable and friendly. They always look forward to getting hold of our Philippine peso for remembrance.
They are also agog over Coca-Cola products costing over P100 in Indonesian rupiahs for a one-liter bottle. Our famous rum product, Tanduay Rhum, is very much sought after by Indon residents in the island. And vinegar is a valued commodity. Although the island is literally littered with coconut trees, Indonesians don't share the Filipinos' passion for coconut wine.
Local residents there, however, said some Filipinos who had married and had been assimilated in the community are tapping coconut trees for coconut wine for personal consumption.
Animal lovers would surely frown on Tahuna residents as dog meats are regular fares in restaurants and cafeteria. Of course, they came in hot and spicy.
But for Filipinos who love tropical fruits, Tahuna is the island for you. When in season, a three-kilo basket of lanzones (longko in Sangihe) costs just a little over P10, mangosteen at P15 for the same basket size and durian sells per piece at P10. Yes, Tahuna residents still are not used to selling their fruits by the kilo and the bamboo baskets that go along with them are for free.
Tahuna residents are very protective of their island. It is prohibited to bring out fruits from the island to other parts in the region except in Indonesia.
The island's beauty, however, lies not on top of the island but underneath its seas where a live volcano spews hot bubbles into the water. The corral reefs surrounding the island are a paradise for underwater enthusiasts.
So are the pelagic and deep-sea marine life in the waters shared by Mindanao and the northernmost islands of the Sangihe region.
There, according to fishing tycoon Marfenio Tan, fishes die of old age.
These historical and cultural affinities and trade relations between the Sanghire Regency of North Sulawesi and the Socsksacrgen region in Mindanao are the core issues that local governments from both sides are now trying to renew and strengthen.
When it was time to leave, the feeling I had was one who just visited a neighboring province of Mindanao.
The sun was still above the horizon but when we touched down at the General Santos City airport it was already dusk.