South Cotabato’s Mt. Three Kings: Bloto, Kabaling and Tacofil
Little is known about Mt. Three Kings in Lake Sebu. A quick Google search would reveal that it is part of an IBA (Important Bird Area) in the Philippines, that is surprisingly unexplored, and in Doc Bone’s comment in Gideon Lasco’s blog on Lake Holon, that it is a “level 3 climb, traversing three mountains in 6 days, which only the natives do.” But for the T’bolis living in Sitio Kangko, a highland community in Lake Sebu, Southern Cotabato, the three giant peaks watching over their community have always been called Turok Bloto, Turok Kabaling and Turok Tacofil. It is only in recent times that the towering giants were collectively named by outsiders as ‘Mt. Three Kings.’
These names also do not pay homage to any human royalty, living or otherwise. Bloto is named for its somewhat circular contour. Tacofil, the rightmost peak is named for its ‘bell-like’ shape.
In our trek to Sitio Kangko last week, I immediately recognized the three towering peaks even from a distance, before I could even make out the small community nearby. But we did not visit the place to conquer Mt. Three Kings. We were there primarily to watch the endemic Philippine birds, including the Philippine Eagle, that are said to frequent the area. That is why I dubbed our latest adventure as “Project Aerie.”
We reached the bird watching deck at around 5:00 PM. But there were no eagles, kites or hornbills hovering the area. Roy Ungkal, our trustworthy guide from MENRO (Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office), explained that the birds would only come out early in the morning. The Philippine eagles in particular, would only come out if the sun is already up. Since our itinerary would not allow us to stay until noon the following day, the bird watching experience would have to be set at another date.
That perhaps was the closest that we could get to get a spectacular and unobstructed view of Mt. Three Kings. While watching the peaks from that vantage point, I was reminded of course of my size in comparison to the mammoth before us. But more than that humbling perspective, my very limited textbook knowledge on forests and every living thing that are supposed to be there, was rendered useless at that point (and even from that point forward). Because when you stare at Mt. Three Kings for too long, you would get an overwhelming feeling that it has always been the peaks who have been keenly observing you from the start.
Roger, our T’boli contact in Sitio Kangko, shared to us a few interesting stories about the peaks later in the evening. It was in Bloto, where a banog or a Philippine Eagle was first reported during the 1970s. For a time, there was also a huge ‘hawk-eagle’ that nabbed off little children in the community. But it has since been hunted down and was never seen again. Kabaling is home to a being who possesses an uncanny ability. Those who have seen him visiting the community, describe a man who could run very, very fast. It is as if he suddenly changes to a spirit-like form in an instant.
Unfortunately, that is the only part of the story that I managed to jot down on my weekly planner. It was getting already late in the evening when Roger reached the exciting part of his narrative. He politely begged off from our conversation to join his family. And after a few minutes, those of us remaining in that hut (which was also where we had a ‘mini-townhall meeting’ earlier) followed suit.
The stories about Mt. Three Kings, although incomplete, still fascinate me to this day. In the absence of pictures and empirical data, these ‘myths’ could provide helpful insights to the mystery that has successfully shrouded Bloto, Kabaling and Tacofil from the outside world. No one knows how exactly tall each peak is or what are the unknown species of medicinal plants that may abound in its forest floor, or that whether an Avatar-world exists in one of its unexplored caves.
Some of the T’boli men at Sitio Kangko have been to a peak at one point. They went there primarily to hunt for food, which has been one of their means of survival for a quite long time. One of them told us that the way to Bloto is almost impassable as it is full of boulders. They also told us of the existence of Turok Mandan, a fourth and smaller mountain, located near the three peaks. They used this as a resting place or base camp before going further in their journey. I could only imagine how they survive from each trek sans all the expensive camping gear and the appropriate hiking apparel.
I look forward then to the time when the Mt. Three Kings would be finally explored by the rightful, brave and worthy mountaineering group. They would probably come somewhere near South Cotabato because people elsewhere are apprehensive to visit this very beautiful province. This unfounded fear is likely caused by the inaccurate and sensational reports from our local media. But after visiting the province last week, I could really say that it has so much stories to tell and so much potential to be among the top eco-tourism destinations in the Philippines.
Until then, the fast running man that frequents Bloto, Kabaling and Tacofil would remain as among the many secrets that Mt. Three Kings would hold for a long, long time.
The threat from extremist militants is real everywhere in the Philippines. The author still believes that it would be prudent to err on the side of caution. Do not attempt to conquer Mt. Three Kings at your own whim. Contact the ACTS (Arts, Culture, Tourism and Sports) Promotions Unit of the South Cotabato Provincial Government for further details.