A pilgrim’s observations

   The Pilgrimage to Lake Holon season 2 was part of the activities of 18th Seslong Festival and 42nd Foundation Anniversary of the municipality of Tboli in South Cotabato. It was a successful event that attracted hundreds of “pilgrims” from different parts of the country. Their festivity truly attracts thousands of visitors who are quiet curious about the municipality’s allure. It was not my first time to visit Tboli. In the past years, I got the chance to visit the municipality for research purposes and to see friends. But it was my first time to visit their tourist sites like Lake Holon. As any of my first encounters, I lower my expectations so that I would not end up like a whining pessimist. Thanks to the enchanting beauty of Tboli that it erased all my worries about it. Like any of my travel experiences in Region XII, I have my questions as well as observations that keep haunting me whenever the thought of it strikes in. 

   Tboli is a first class municipality of South Cotabato. They are known not only for their agricultural and mining industry but also for their tourist attractions like the famous Lake Holon. Tourism is one of the major industries that Tboli could offer. Lake Holon settled at the crater of Mt. Melibengoy (Mt. Parker). It is considered as the cleanest lake in Region XII. It got the 1st ranked in 2003 and 2004 search for the cleanest inland bodies of water in the country. The Tbolis considered the lake as sacred. They have many interesting stories about it like the famous 15 guardians of Tudbulol. 

   The Department of Tourism Region XII has been promoting Lake Holon as part of a local ecotourism circuit that includes Lamhaku Hot Spring in Barangay Lamhaku, Hidak Falls and Hikong Kemebel in Barangay Kematu, and Bakngeb River Cave in Barangay Laconon. The good thing about the Local Government of Tboli is that they temporarily close their tourist sites (like the case of Lake Holon) to give time to replenish. This is one of their strategies to preserve and protect the environment. 

   The SOXph team had an overnight stay at sitio Kule in barangay Salakafe. We experienced the “homestay program” of the community. It was great and I felt like a local residing in the area. The non-existence of electricity and phone signal contribute to the peaceful and refreshing atmosphere of the community. It was a community immersion as its best. Since we stayed in sitio Kule, we tried the Kule hunter trail. The Kule trail was a bit challenging. It has a different geographical location in which you would see half covered forest and half barren mountains. But it was worth it because we got the chance to see the top view of the Lake. It was a rejuvenating experience to see Lake Holon. We trekked for two hours just to see the enchanting lake. 

   Trekking keeps my mind relax and refresh. I think it is one of nature’s enigmatic benefits to humans. Whenever I do this activity, ideas start to overflow. As ideas started to overflow, a concern emerged. This concern always bothers me whenever I travel especially to places that are not yet promoted or known to the public. It is a socio-political-environmental concern regarding the influx of tourists who are curious about Lake Holon. Furthermore, I am not only interested in their tourist attractions and folklore. I am also interested to know the stories of environmental degradation, human rights violation, land dispossession and cultural degeneration. I do not mean to be a bitter outsider but I am not a one sided indifferent traveler/writer who only wants to take selfie and brag it on social media for boosting his egotistic pleasure. It is too perfect; it is an ostentatious eye candy experience, close to a fantasy like place of Shangri-La. I am uncomfortable about it in a strange way; maybe because I only got to see one side of the story; maybe because I missed seeing the whole picture. 

   It is sometimes ok to experience the “glitz and glamor” of a place but sometimes it is also important to know whether these amenities you experience are not product of exploitation. For me, my stay in the municipality is not enough. I want to have real community immersion wherein I can personally talk to its locals and assess the community. 

   As a writer/blogger, filmmaker and Sustainable Development advocate, I have implied responsibility to promote Tboli with caution. I do not want to over promote it without telling the people what are the consequences of our actions. I do not mean to be a preacher here but it is good to remind people (myself included) what our actions do to the environment. It is a fact, but sometimes we tend to forget it. 

   I know the municipality of Tboli will be more prosperous in the near future. Tourism becomes a hot industry because of its promising impact to the municipality. But if the local government and its communities would not help each other achieve what they want to achieve, they would end up like Lake Sebu (or other eco-tourism sites in the country). We all know that there is danger of too much commercialization of culture or too much commodification of a place. If sustainable development is not realized, the next generation will not enjoy the beauty that we have witnessed during our lifetime.  

   I hope I am wrong. I hope I am just over analyzing things.

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Thank you