Agusan Wildlife Sanctuary courses through five municipalities — Rosario, San Francisco, Talacogon, Bunawan, La Paz, and Loreto. Bunawan being the most famous one as it was where Lolong was captured. To those who have no idea who Lolong was, Lolong was the world’s longest crocodile in captivity. He was a 20ft 3in Indo-Pacific saltwater croc and he weighed around 1,075 kg. He was found dead in his cage last February 10, 2013.
We asked the Panlabuhan locals about what they think of Lolong. “Gamay man siya”. He’s small, they said. Nakadakop mig mas dako pa niya, kaduhaon. Abi namo namatay kay nasab-it sa pukot. Buhi diay. “We caught one that is twice his size. He got himself entangled in one of the nets. We initially thought that he was dead only to find out he was not” our boat men explained. When asked where the crocodile is now. Gibuy-an nano. “We let him go” they shrugged. As it should be, our group silently agreed.
Yes, in case you are wondering, the marshland is home to many crocodiles.
Aside from crocodiles, the marsh is sanctuary to 127 different species of birds like the Silvery Kingfisher, the Silver Heron, wild ducks and egrets — 30% of the birds found here are endemic to the area. To add, 60 different reptilian species and 16 different types of freshwater fishes also consider the marshland their homes. There are also 112 different types of trees.
The marshland is also a catch-basin of waters from Mt. Diwata, Compostella Valley, Bukidnon, and Davao. During moonson, floodwaters from Agusan Valley course through the Agusan River as well.
Needless to say, the ecosystem this sanctuary maintains is significant not just for Mindanao but also for the Philippines. Agusan Marshland Sanctuary was declared a protected area in October 1996 and was given a Ramsar Site certificate – “Wetland of International Importance” last November 1999.
In the heart of the 59 lakes of the Agusan Marshland Sanctuary is the Floating Village of the Ata-Manobos of Panlabuhan. I was a bit surprised as Ata-Manobos are more known to build their stilt houses on rugged highlands and mountain ridges, not on wetlands and rivers. And the marshland is a very unique ecological niche.
When I asked why they chose such location, they said that their grandfather fell asleep in the marsh with his net on the water. When he woke up, his catch was bountiful, thus he moved his family in the area.
The village is small and beautiful in the middle of the vastness of the 19-hectare marsh. It’s water everywhere!
People move around in boats. Their “port” is a bunch of bamboo sticks tied together, the wooden houses are built on plastic drums, and they have planks of wood that serve as little bridges. The people in the village have a strong bond with the water and all its inhabitants. They even turn their boat motors off and would just paddle in certain areas in the river so they don’t disturb the fish.
The floating village have three important structures: the “inn”, a two story ‘building” where visitors can stay; their school; and their church. They have two teachers from Loreto and a priest visits the village once a month for mass.
The community has been christened but amidst christianity, they are still practical believers of the spirits and the elementals.
Our visit, for example, was opened with a ritual– the Datu praying to God and to the elementals, offering food, drinks, and cigarettes for prosperity and protection. After the Datu has given his prayers to God and “Amigo”, all the visitors have to partake some of the drinks, candies, and cigarettes as a sign of respect.
O u r l i t t l e k i t c h e n
As the floating village is almost two hours away from land, it would be best to bring your own supplies— food, water, beer, musical instruments, and anything you deem useful. There is no electricity in the area and people use rainwater for drinking. There is, of all things (hear the irony in my voice), a strong data signal from Globe, thus, net access is still possible in the area.
t h e m a r s h l a n d
The women weave (water hyacinth) and the men fish. They would gladly take you to the different interesting places around the river while they tell you stories of their culture and traditions.
For birdwatchers, birdwatching stations will be put up around the marsh soon. As for the crocodiles, they don’t really bother people unless you cross their territory — or something. If you’re scared, just don’t think about them.
W e e k e n d W a r r i o r s
For those who wish to visit the floating village for a quiet weekend away from the city or those who wish to extend help and do community service, please inform the Mindanao Tourism Council or contact the Local Governement Unit of Loreto for the available tour packages. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Shirley at 0910-6712797.
Also, please don’t forget to bring simple offerings when you come.
H o w t o g e t t h e r e
Departing from Ecoland Bus terminal, Davao City:
God forbid you take the bus (Php 240). The trip stretches to five hours compared the van (Php 170) whose travel time is 3.
Aboard those that are going to BUTUAN CITY (bus). It’s TRENTO, if you’re taking the van. Get off the Trento Terminal and hire a tricycle for Php250/person to go to San Francisco, Loreto.
There are inns around the area. Get a room, if you are not sleepy, take a shower, as that will be your last shower until you cruise back from the river.
*Visit the municipality for more information but best if you contact them before your arrival as boat arrangements are tricky :) Be safe and have a happy trip everyone!