Mount Tumantangis as seen from Jolo, Sulu (AFP JTG-Sulu photo)

Mount Tumantangis as seen from Jolo and Patikul, Sulu (AFP JTG-Sulu photo)

Fancy a trek to one of the Abu Sayyaf’s mountain playgrounds in Sulu? That’s in the pipeline.

Officials from different government agencies, backed by the military of course, are set to climb Bud Tumantangis, or Mount Tumantangis, on Saturday and Sunday with the aim of raising awareness for its conservation and, hopefully, promoting it as a tourist attraction.

Among those who will trek up are representatives of the Department of Tourism, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Education, Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the Sulu provincial government, said Colonel Alan Arrojado, commander of the Armed Forces’ Joint Task Group Sulu.

Two Army and Marines battalions were earlier deployed around the mountain to ensure security, he said.

Tumantangis, which straddles the towns of Indanan and Patikul, is the highest peak in the Sulu archipelago at 2,661 feet (811.0728 meters).

The peak offers a view of the entire Sulu archipelago, neighboring Basilan, and sometimes, even the Zamboanga Peninsula.

“It’s the first thing you’ll see when coming to the province by sea, and the last thing when you leave… Maganda ang sunrise at sunset. ‘Pag clear ang sky, hanggang Zamboanga makikita mo,” Arrojado said.

Tumantangis also holds historical significance as the tomb-monument of Sharif ul-Hashim Abu Bakar — the first to hold the title of “sultan” in Sulu — is on the mountain.

People interested in wildlife can also find monkeys, locally called “mamak,” at Tumantangis.

This weekend’s trek will see government officials identify areas where trails, steps, and even “base camps” can be placed for future climbers to use, Arrojado said.

“Initiative ko ito, initiative namin, kasi kung nagagawa sa ibang bundok, sa Mount Apo (in Davao), sa Bongao peak (in Tawi-Tawi), sa Mount Pulag (in Northern Luzon), why not in Sulu? ‘Yun ang approach namin ngayon dito,” he said.

The tourism projects, however, are still being planned as, unlike frequently-climbed mountains in the country, Tumantangis has one stinging problem — the Abu Sayyaf.

Members of the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf, blamed for kidnappings, killings, and bombings, are known to roam around the mountain’s foothills.

“Hindi katulad ng Mount Apo na madalas akyatin, itong Tumantangis kahit ‘yung mga taga-dito mismo sa Jolo, hindi pa nila ito naaakyat. Wala pang nakakaakyat maliban siguro sa Abu Sayyaf,” Arrojado said.

Armed elements of the Moro National Liberation Front loyal to founding chairman Nur Misuari also have encampments at the slopes, particularly in Brgy. Kadday Langpas, Indanan.

Currently, the Abu Sayyaf still holds several captives, including Ewold Horn of the Netherlands — a birdwatcher snatched in the neighboring province of Tawi-Tawi in February 2012.

While the military says that Abu Sayyaf members were last seen at Tumantangis in 2007, the last reported instance of captives being held there was in 2008, when the bandits allegedly brought ABS-CBN television reporter Ces Drilon, two of her crew, and their professor guide to the mountain.

Tumantangis, which literally means “weeping,” did not get its name from the ordeal that Abu Sayyaf captives suffered while being held there.

“Lagi kasing may tubig na bumababa sa bundok kaya para siyang umiiyak. In fact, ito ang source ng tubig sa entire Sulu Island. At ito ‘yung isa sa mga dahilan kaya bakit kailangan magkaroon ng awareness at maprotektahan ‘yung virgin forests dito,” Arrojado said.

To help achieve that, the climb will also include a tree-planting activity, he said.

Arrojado said teams of soldiers are now conducting clearing operations on Tumantangis every now and then not only to ensure the security of this weekend’s climb, but also future treks.

Once tourists come to Tumantangis, residents are expected to earn money through services that cater to needs of trekkers and backpackers, he said.

It is hoped that by then, Sulu will finally be rid of the tag of being “one of the most dangerous places on earth,” Arrojado said. (John Roson)

– end –