SARANGANI has the unusual distinction of being one of the country’s youngest provinces and, at the same time, one of the oldest.
Youngest because it was carved out of the coastal municipalities of South Cotabato in 1992 to become the 75th of the 81 provinces, and oldest because it is home to one of the archipelago’s oldest prehistoric settlements in the remote caves in Maitum town, where 2,000-year old anthropomorphic burial jars were unearthed.
Fragments of the said jars can still be seen inside Pinol Cave, while an archaeological diorama is on display at the Maitum Municipal Hall.
This Old World charm was showcased once more as Sarangani held the 15th MunaTo Festival to mark its 25th founding anniversary. MunaTo was derived from the B’laan phrase Muna Toh, or “first people” who inhabited the area.
The locus of the festivities is the street-dancing competition that was topped by the James L. Chiongbian High School in Kiamba who presented the town’s Timpuyog Festival. The dance routine is based on the tri-people culture of the T’boli tribe, the Sangir Islamic community and the Visayan lowland settlers, particularly on the harvest and warrior and hunter way of life of the natives.
The celebration also highlighted the exquisite culture and traditional weaving of its indigenous peoples—the B’laan, T’boli and Tagakaolo, as well as the Maguindanaon and Maranao Moro communities. Taking the spotlight is B’laan master igem (mat) weaver Bai Estelita Bantilan, recipient of the 2017 Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan or National Living Treasure accolade.
“MunaTo celebrates the province’s rich cultural heritage, adventure destinations and natural wonders, which are wonderfully interwoven together,” Sarangani Gov. Steve Solon said.
He noted that the recent festival was special, as 2017 has been a banner year for the province in the fields of businesses, agriculture and tourism.
Sarangani was named as the country’s sixth-most competitive province in the 2017 Cities and Municipalities Competitiveness Index, 18 notches higher from its 23rd position the previous year.
Organized by the National Competitiveness Council with the Regional Competitiveness Committees and the United States Agency for International Development, local governments are ranked based on their scores on economic dynamism, government efficiency, infrastructure and resiliency.
The province was also recognized by Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol as the most successful Special Area for Agricultural Development Agriculture Project of the Department of Agriculture because of its efficient implementation.
“Tourism is a bright spot in the local economy, as we registered 980,972 day visitors and 107,730 overnight guests in 2016,” Solon said. He pointed out that the province has also gained recognition as the country’s paragliding capital, with some flyable 300 days a year because of good winds and fair weather.
Located at the peak of Maasim, the Safi Ranch Fly Site has been identified by aerosports aficionados as among the archipelago’s best fly sites, having hosted the International Paragliding Accuracy Competition (IPAC) in 2014, and the prestigious Paragliding Accuracy World Cup (PGAWC) in 2015.
Meanwhile, Sarangani Bay was declared by the Department of Tourism as the scuba diving haven of Soccsksargen region following a safari that gathered the country’s leading dive tour operators and underwater photographers.
Spicing up the fete was the Pearl of Sarangani pageant won by Kiezel Mellado of the municipality of Alabel, who was awarded by former actress and Region 11 tourism officer Juliana Palermo and Pearl 2016 winner and Eat Bulaga Miss Millennial contestant Maria Carmela Villaruel.
Top band Rivermaya brought festivities to an end, as they rocked the night away with their well-loved hits before an adoring crowd at the Provincial Capitol grounds in Alabel.