Face To Face With Tausugs: The Long Forgotten People
MY DIALOGUE with the people of Sulu in the capital town of Jolo last week was so unlike the other face-to-face meetings I had with farmers and fishermen in other parts of the country.
The Tausug farmers and the fishermen were quiet, a complete opposite of my dialogue with farmers in Nueva Ecija where the mood was lively and people queued up for a chance to ask a road project, equipment or seeds and fertiliser from the Dept. of Agriculture.
The farmers were to my right and the fishermen were to my left in the small venue where I met them.
They seemed to just look at me observing every move I made and understanding every sentence I gave.
Tausugs are fierce warriors but their encounters with people coming to the islands, especially the Americans at the turn of the century, were often bloody and deadly.
They are friendly but naturally leery of foreign looking faces and strangers from the outside.
I was no different and I felt they looked at me as a stranger.
It took sometime before I was able to break the wall and it happened when I first apologised for the years of neglect by government and when I said I was sent by President Duterte to talk to them and ask them what they needed from government.
President Duterte won by landslide in the province of Sulu and in Maimbung, the hometown of the family of Gov. Totoh Tan, the Tausugs gave the former Davao City Mayor 90% of the votes.
The dialogue became warmer when I promised that I would direct the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to give out 1,000 units of fiberglass fishing boats.
They applauded loud and yelled and then they stood up one by one to open up.
A village elder said his people was starting to plant rice (Sulu is a net importer of rice and most of the rice supply available is smuggled through the backdoor).
He asked me if his village could be given a small rice mill and was apparently surprised with I told him that not only would his village receive a rice mill but also a cultivator and a rice thresher.
There was another group which asked for processing facilities for their fruits so these could be turned to high value products like jam.
That too, I granted including a few other requests.
At the end of the dialogue, 100 wooden paddle boats were given to seaweeds farmers.
Honestly, I was not impressed by the quality of the wooden paddle boats made out of marine plywood but those who received them were very happy.
I promised the Tausugs and their leaders that I would come back and bring more projects from President Duterte.
It was a quick visit but I know it was one which would be remembered for a long time because it was one of the rare moments when the Philippine President sent an emissary to ask the Tausugs what they have been dreaming of all these years.
Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol strikes a pose with former Governor Sakur Tan and other stakeholders in Sulu.