City of Tacurong…Oozing with Goodwill
At the Crossroads of Progress
By Apolinario Villalobos
The city spearheads the rousing endeavor of Sultan Kudarat province to move forward. She practically stands at the crossroads of South Cotabato, North Cotabato/Maguindanao/Davao, and Cotabato City. Such location is fittingly symbolized by the rotunda that encloses the concrete image of “talakudong” (head covering) from which her name has been derived, although, much earlier, she was referred to as “Pamansang”.
Even before she was weaned from the political cuddles of Buluan, hordes of immigrants from Luzon and Visayas had been attracted by the prospective ventures that lay under the thick grassy mantle of her swamplands. The immigrants braved the mosquitoes when they arrived at the port of Cotabato City from which they equally braved the ride on the frail bancas and crude ferries that navigated the Rio Grande de Mindanao with destinations such as Buluan and Dulawan.
When she was yet a barrio of Buluan, the trek to Tacurong from the former, over grassy trails according to Ms. Nenita Bernardo and the late Mr. Menandro Lapuz took almost half a half day. Those who came via Dulawan had to take the trail through Lambayong (Sultan sa Barongis), or the much easier though longer trek via Maganoy onward through Esperanza on the highway that leads to Isulan from where they turned left to cross the Lower Katungal or Kapingkong River, until finally reaching the sparsely inhabited “sentro” with its muddy roads.
Today, the city is under the administration of Mayor Lina Montilla with Dr. Joseph George Lechonsito assisting her, being the Vice-Mayor. And, just like any local government that needs an information machinery that must be effective, for Tacurong, it is provided by the Information Team of Allan Freno, a soft-spoken and unassuming proud product of Notre Dame of Tacurong College, and whose office publishes a very informative magazine, “The Goodwill”. It contains just anything about what had been done and what should be done, yet…in simply-written English language. The compactness of the publication is such that the layout has been made to accommodate as many information as possible, without compromising the artistry and color. Visitors to the city are advised to check out the office of Mr. Freno for a copy, at the City Hall.
The city prides in her Baras Bird Sanctuary and Monte Vicenteaux Resort which has been accredited by the Department of Tourism, lately. The two touristic destinations can easily be accessed on any tricycle that can be hired, the cost for which can be negotiated. The bird sanctuary is located along the bank of the Kapingkong River and shaded with bamboo grooves and other age-old hard woods, not far from sprawling rice fields and African palm plantations. As the morning sun breaks the horizon, flocks of white egrets could be seen hovering over the heavily-foliaged canopy of trees and creaking bamboos that sway at the mildly blowing wind. The Monte Vicenteaux Resort is located a little farther, at New Passi, where it breaks the wide expanse of rice fields at the foot of the low-lying hill of Magon and fed by naturally flowing spring. The main pool is semi-Olympic sized around which are cottages that could be hired. Below the pools are adjoining ponds of tilapia, halu-an (mudfish) and pantat (catfish). On harvest days, the resort welcome even the walk-in visitors who would like to make a purchase. Due to be finished are the facilities for overnight- staying guests. In the meantime, according to the management, those who would like to use their tents can make arrangements for the tenting area to be assigned. Other conveniences and comforts are provided by stores and clean restrooms. Added features that make the resort functional are the activity areas provided with adjustable stages made of steel segments.
The “tag” of the city has been appropriately chosen- “goodwill”. If “goodwill” stands for friendliness, kindness, care and many more positive descriptions of a person’s character, then Tacurong really deserves it. A visitor can just look around to see happy and smiling faces of locals… the young calling their elders either “uncle”, “kol” (abbreviated uncle), “auntie”, “manong”, “manang”, or “sir”and “ma’am”. With that, how can a visitor not feel pampered with respect and assurance that his or her stay is guaranteed with a warm congeniality and safety? The first time I experienced this “goodwillish” attitude was when I heard a young passenger, obviously a student, who was with me on the same aircon van from Davao when I went home for a quick visit. In a very tender voice, she told the driver, “lihug para , sir…” (please stop, sir…) when she got off at the vicinity of rotunda where the Talakudong landmark is located.
In the city, you can still buy ripe bananas per bunch, vegetables, water melon from surrounding barangays, and cavendish banana from Datu Paglas – all at ridiculously low price. The local coffee is what I would like to specially mention because for me, it is much better than the “barako” of Batangas. I am a coffee drinker and I know how the coffee should be pleasantly bitter to be called “real coffee”. Here, you can also buy the healthy mix of ground coffee and yellow corn. Add to those the black bars of dry molasses, the real sugar cane and coconut sap vinegars with variations that come with ginger or langkawas, garlic and really red hot chili, that are sold along the highway that traverses Tuwato, the city’s boundary with Buluan.
The city likewise, serves as the outlet for the freshly harvested and dried mudfish (dalag or halu-an), tilapia, and catfish (pantat or hito) that come from Buluan. On market days, even the “panyalam” a sweet, brown-colored and sotanghon-like dry noodles, though finer, can be found sold alongside various rice cakes. And, of course, the visitor should not miss the colorful “tikug” mats and other handwoven crafts made of rattan. When locusts infest the rice and corn fields, the locals get back at them by frying them into savory crispiness flavored with plenty of toasted garlic and chili, then sold at the market per small tumbler or drinking glass, and this was what I chanced upon when I last visited the city. I shamefully consumed one glassful at one standing in just a few minutes, enjoying the crispy chili-hot delicacy that was also enjoyed by the Israelites while they went around the desert for 40 years before finally allowed to “enter” the Promised Land!
Late in the afternoon until around 10 in the evening, the marketside portion of the Tacurong-Isulan highway comes alive with local cafes shaded with tarpaulin. The open-air carenderias compete with airconditioned hamburger and pizza joints, as well as, grilled food stands that sell barbecued fish, chicken and pork. Beside them are piles of oranges from Tulunan, pineapples from Polomolok (bundle of 3 for Php20-50), guavas and mangoes. Popular hamburger outlets, pizza parlors and unli-rice joints have joined the rush to have a share of the city’s economic upsurge, along with equally popular drug stores that sell generic and branded medicines.
Culturally and spiritually, Tacurong is one good model for what Filipinos dream of as “unity in diversity”. Those from Luzon and Visayas live side by side with the Iranuns, Maguindanaoans and Maranaos. The stillness of dawn is broken by the call for the morning prayer that emanates from the loudspeaker perched on the minaret of the Islamic Mosque, while the bells of the Catholic church peal from their belfry. The diversified cultures admirably meld as shown by Muslims who speak fluent Visayan, Tagalog and Ilocano, and Christians who have made the ever-useful malong and tubaw (head covering) as part of their wardrobe, as well as, delight at the peculiar taste of “pastil”, the Muslim version of the “binalot”, and whose topping vary from the shredded chicken to tilapia, halu-an (mudfish), or pantat (catfish).
The City of Tacurong which has gained a foothold in the tourism map due to its Talakudong Festival, Baras Bird Sanctuary, and Monte Vienteaux Resort, can be visited via Davao City, General Santos City (Gensan) and Cotabato City. One can take a flight to any of the cities mentioned and at the airport take a taxi to any of the bus and aircon van stations for the scheduled trips to Tacurong. As for the accommodation, the city has plenty of comfortable aircon and non-aircon lodging inns and hotels to choose from.
I would like to say that the smile of the Tacurongnons is more than a greeting that if spoken would sound something like, “Maayo nga pag-abot!”…an Hiligaynon equivalent of “Welcome”.
For the interested parties, please Google search, “Tacurong City” for more of her historic, political, economic, cultural details, and photos. The mentioned festival, resort and bird sanctuary can also be specifically searched.