The newly-established Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in muslim Mindanao (BARMM), composed of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Tawi-Tawi, sulu, and Basilan, is not only a melting pot of diverse cultures but also a basin of unspoiled destinations that people have yet to discover.
At the 30th Philippine Travel Mart in SMX Convention Center today (Friday, August 30) the region highlighted these through a colourful booth that showed the vibrancy the Philippines' southernmost tip has to offer.
In Tawi-Tawi, the booth boasts of the Bud Bongao and the Sheik Makhdum Mosque — the oldest in the Philippines — which symbolizes the propagation of Islam in 1380 in the province by an Arab missionary named Sheikh Karimul Makhdum.
The Panampangan Island, which has a sandbar that stretches to 3,128 metres, is also located in Tawi-Tawi and is hailed for its crystal blue waters and pristine white sands.
The region also showcased the Masjid Dimaukom, popularly known as the Pink Mosque — an important symbol of Islamic religion which stands tall and pink in Maguindanao — as well as the Lami-Lamihan Festival that highlights the Yakan Tribe from Basilan's rich custom and age-old music.
In Sulu, the region invited potential tourists to the island province's beaches including the Manisan in Banguingui Municipality, the home of the native Sama-Banguingui people who fought against the Spanish invaders back in the olden days.
The image of Sulu in general including other provinces in the now BARMM has suffered a huge blow due to conflict, threats of piracy, and the existence of terrorist groups such as the Abu Sayyaf.
Although a number of areas in the island province such as the Patikul in Jolo are off-limits to tourists, Sulu provincial tourism officer Jainab Abdulmajid said parts of the place are now open for visitors to enjoy with the option of tapping government forces for security while in the area.
“In my 25 years as provincial tourism officer, walang na-kidnap sa pangangalaga namin (nobody under our care was kidnapped). The key there is you coordinate with the right agency. In our case, you coordinate with the provincial tourism office, which is under the provincial government,” she said in an interview.
In Sulu alone, registered tourists already reached hundreds said the tourism officer. “Our conservative target is 400 to 500 this year,” Abdulmajid said.
“We don't really count because there are a lot of tourists who want to visit during Ramadan. We don't allow it because our tour guides are fasting. With regard to the recent bombing of the Jolo Cathedral, of course, when there are security advises we don't allow tourists, but now, Sulu is open to everybody,” she said.
Abdulmajid is optimistic about the future of Sulu's tourism industry with the Bangsamoro government's assurance to assist in the promotion.
“Even before BARMM, people have always been interested and curious about Muslim culture. With this, we have new leadership, the BARMM government promised to bring in more tourists and I see a lot of optimism with the BARMM,” she added.