When prized Filipino pugilist Manny Pacquiao climbs the ring on January 19 against American challenger Adrien Broner, he will again be introduced by Michael Buffer as the “Fighting Senator from Sarangani.”
But before we get ready to rumble in Las Vegas come fight night, let’s take a closer look at the province he has proudly represented in recent years—both in the Congress and in the ring. While it is common knowledge that the so-called Pambansang Kamao had his humble beginnings in Gen. Santos City, he fought his way into politics in 2010 in the House of Representatives to become congressman of Sarangani’s lone district.
Unknown to many, his adaptive province has been quietly counter-punching its way to fame in the tourism ring ruled by the big boys even before The Pacman became a household name.
And just like his eight world championship belts, this quaint hideaway in southern Mindanao is a formidable contender among the top “pound-for-pound” champions in the tourism arena, despite its seeming obscurity.
Sarangani was carved out from the coastal towns of South Cotabato and proclaimed an independent province in November 1992. It was named after Sarangani Bay, the vast body of water whose 226.4-km coastline embraces the entirety of the newly created political entity and its neighboring city, Gen. Santos.
The 215,950-hectare bay was declared by the Department Environment and Natural Resources as a Protected Seascape and a Key Marine Biodiversity Area, and is habitat to some 60 live hard coral genera, 411 reef species and 11 species of seagrass.
Its seven municipalities are clustered in what may be the local version of the U.S. East and West Coasts. Gen. Santos City, the urban hub of the then-undivided South Cotabato, sits right smack in the center of Sarangani and serves as the divider and transport hub of the eastern and western sectors.
The eastern cluster is composed of the towns of Malungon, Malapatan, Glan and the provincial capital Alabel, which all boast of the province’s cultural treasures.
Malungon is home to the Lamlifew Village Museum, the first of its kind in the country initiated by the B’laan indigenous peoples to be a repository for the ethnic heritage, traditional weaving, and organic farming. The community makes stylish beads, headdresses and weaves the Mabal Tabih, an elegant and expensive fabric.
This quiet town is also proud of Kalonbarak Skyline Ridge, a hilltop view-deck park where a Woodstock-themed ethnic concert, the Kasumma Festival, is held every June. In recent months, the town has been positioning itself for farm tourism to expose its guests to the fun aspect of agriculture.
The adjoining town of Malapatan takes pride in Bai Estelita Bantilan, a Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan (National Living Treasure) awardee for her weaving of the igem Blaan tribal mat. Living in an upland village, she has become a “rock star” of sorts since receiving the prestigious accolade, as tourists seek her out to interact with her and learn the craft.
Malapatan is also noted for Maguindanaon malong and inaul fabrics using traditional handlooms at the Balungis weaving center where women showcase their world-class artistry.
If there is one compelling reason to visit Sarangani, Gumasa Beach in Glan must be it because of its powdery white sand, long regarded as Mindanao’s version of Boracay. Its shores sizzle during the Sarangani Bay Festival in May, the biggest potpourri of beach events, entertainment, wellness, sports and environmental awareness which lures hordes of beach bums from all over the country.
In addition, Glan is also known for its array of bayside restaurant-hotels and its Heritage Village with the museum-like American-era art deco homes, each with an intriguing story to tell.
Meanwhile, the western cluster is composed of Maasim-Kiamba-Maitum municipalities, which are known for adventure activities.
Aerosport aficionados flock to Maasim to take to the skies for a breath-taking glide, quite literally, from a mountaintop, considered among the archipelago’s best sites because of its good wind for most of the year. In 2015, it hosted the elite Paragliding Accuracy World Cup, which brought the globe’s top pilots.
The town is also host to the Tinoto Wall dive spot, located just off Lemlunay Resort, which boasts a variety of corals and marine life. The unheralded site is regarded as the mecca of diving in Sarangani Bay, as declared by the Department of Tourism.
Meanwhile, non-divers can indulge in aquasports at Pacquiao’s Pacman Resort nearby, which offers pedal boats, kayaks and helmet diving.
Beach bums will fall in love with Tuka Marine Park in Kiamba with its powdery playground and marine sanctuary, ideal for snorkeling and freediving. Guests can also paddle the typical wooden outrigger boat or bamboo raft and bask in the sea and the sun. Tucked in a secluded cove, it has a few modest resorts with back-to-basics accommodation.
Aside from the sea, there is the multi-tiered Kawil falls located in an upland barangay for soaking in the icy water.
Adrenaline junkies can take the two-kilometer bumpy whitewater tube ride at the Pangi River in Maitum, or trek to Mlangen (or Kamlayaman) Falls and Yama Cave in the town’s remote villages.
For a glimpse of Sarangani’s prehistoric heritage, the Municipal Museum has dioramas of the caves which housed the 2,000-year old burial jars and relics of reputedly the first inhabitants of the Philippines. The original jars, displayed at the National Museum, are described as an exceptional archaeological assemblage unparalleled in Southeast Asia.
With its offerings of nature, culture and adventure and everything in between, Sarangani also packs a knockout punch, just like its prominent son.
Getting There: Sarangani can be reached via Gen. Santos City airport, and from there, you can visit the different destinations. For organized tours around the province, log on to www.gosaranganitravel.com.
Bernard Supetran is a Manila-based freelance photojournalist,or, tourism consultant, and lecturer. He is also a certified open water scuba diver and marine environmental protection advocate and has dived in various parts of the Philippines. In this issue, he features Sarangani Province where he is currently working out his