Sitio Kangko | Lake Sebu, South Cotabato
Sitio Kangko is the farthest inhabited area in Barangay Lamlahak in the municipality of Lake Sebu, Southern Philippines. It is located at the foot of the yet unexplored Mt. Three Kings, aptly named for the three imposing peaks that seem to closely watch the small community, Lake Sebu from a distance and over the picturesque South Cotabato province. It can only be reached through hiking a narrow trail that carefully traverses the mountainous slopes in the area.
The trek to this far-flung community was one of the highlights of our South Cotabato adventure last weekend. There were 12 of us in the group – 6 from our young professionals group in Cebu, 4 extended friends from South Cotabato and Metro Manila, 1 local guide and 1 porter.
It took us more than 2 hours to reach the place. Later we would find out from our guide, Mr. Roy Ungkal, who is connected with MENRO (Municipal and Environment and Natural Resources Office), that for experienced mountaineers, there would only be 15 minutes of allotted rest for every hour of trek. The ‘rest’ in our case was mainly because of sporadic picture taking. We felt that it was imperative to document the things that we would have never done for a summer vacation: drinking spring water flowing from a bamboo pole, crossing a small stream and eating dried fish in the middle of a hike.
When we arrived in the base camp, we were treated with the following spectacular views – towering trees and lush vegetation on mountaintops on the north and south, Mt. Three Kings on the west and the scenic Lake Sebu on the east. You could also hear the faint sound of rushing waters from a distant waterfall. Occasionally, a cry from a bird somewhere in the forest or the laughter of the children playing near our hut disturbed the silence of that afternoon.
For so many years now, Sitio Kangko has served as a base camp for mountaineers who would like to take the challenging river trek to a double cascading waterfall called Hikong Mahi (or Tinago Falls). Birdwatchers also frequent the place to observe and study endemic birds (such as the Philippine Eagle, Philippine Hornbill and Brahminy Kite). And for those who are into extreme adventures, there is always Mt. Three Kings waiting to be conquered.
In some respects, the view around this community reminded me of the Shire of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. This is the place where the Hobbits have rightfully owned and peacefully lived for a very long time. They thrived in their dug-out houses because everything they need such as food, security and lasting peace, are very well within their reach.
Unfortunately, it is a different case for Sitio Kangko. The very remote location of this community may work to the disadvantage of its 16 T’Boli families in the long run. We were told that the children have to endure walking for hours everyday just to reach the nearest public elementary school. There is not much to do at night because of the lack of electricity in the area. It is not surprising then as to why basic government services would take a long time to reach, and sometimes may never reach this humble community.
These and other concerns were presented to us during our meeting with the family representatives in the evening. Although some of the leaders can fluently speak in other dialects (Ilonggo and Cebuano), Roy translated our conversations into Tboli and vice-versa. We thanked them for the gracious accommodation and for allowing us to stay in their land. We also gave a small bag of grocery items to everyone present. At the back of my mind, I knew that the goodies would never be enough especially for a family of eight. But even so, they were very appreciative of our small gesture.
They also shared that they urgently needed bags of cement and steel bars to secure and cover their only potable water source. When it rains hard, the spring located somewhere in a nearby forest would get muddy. This would mean that they have to get their water supply in the lowlands, which I imagine is a very daunting task. But they were candid enough to say that they do not expect anything from our group. There were already hundreds who have trekked before us and their most important need has to this day, remained unaddressed.
On the larger scale of things, I cannot identify now the middle ground between developing the countryside and preserving its pristine environment, between using the region’s abundant natural resources to benefit a greater number of individuals and restraining its exploration for the even greater number of generations afterwards, and between the blessings of a rapidly flattening world and the need to protect an indigenous people’s cultural heritage. When we left Sitio Kangko the following morning, I found no easy answers to all these questions.
But I do find hope in the inherent resiliency of the T’boli community at Sitio Kangko. They may have been experiencing difficulties in accessing certain goods and services for the time being, but their simple lifestyle and outlook in life may help them in their daily struggles.
For the mountaineers and birdwatchers who intend to go to Sitio Kangko anytime soon, please do not forget to bring bags of groceries for the families. Whenever your itinerary permits, play with the children, interact with the elders and visit all the 16 houses. And should the opportunity present itself, endeavor to give something lasting back to the community.
The author would like to thank Mr. Julius Mella for coordinating and making our trek to Sitio Kangko possible. For those who are interested, it would be best to contact the ACTS (Arts, Culture, Tourism and Sports) Promotions Unit of the South Cotabato Provincial Government for a safe and worthwhile journey to and from the community.
The ADB provides an accurate and piercing insight on poverty reduction among the Indigenous Peoples of the Philippines. Chapter 10 of this comprehensive report provides a national plan of action to effectively identify ‘the middle ground.’
If you who would like to know more how to help in concreting the community’s water source, leave me a line or your email addresses in the comments section of this blog entry.