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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

I HAVE always wondered what lay beyond the limestone cliffs and rolling hills that follow the coastline of the Western part of Misamis Oriental.

I know that all the way to Gingoog from Cagayan de Oro City, through the Eastern municipalities of Jasaan, Talisayan, Kinoguitan, and Medina among others, the mountains of Malitbog, Sumagaya, and Manolo rise up like gates to the province of Bukidnon. But what is beyond the poultry farms of Opol, the grazing areas of Initao and Naawan that lock the people between the long coastline on one side and the perceptible mountains on the other?

In a recent research trip to the hinterlands of Iligan City, I learned that it is the same mountains of Bukidnon, specifically the South Western slopes of the Kitanglad mountain range part of which already include the municipality of Talakag that serve as geographic boundaries to the Western municipalities of Misamis Oriental just as it does for Iligan City and Lanao del Sur.


An hour away from Iligan City is the rural barangay of Rogongon. It is nestled on steep slopes of the mountains that form part of the Kitanglad mountain range just below Talakag. The average elevation of 235 meters is misleading because as I observed during the drive through the mountain pass, the topography of the area is composed of extremes. There are sheer drops of hundreds of meters to the Mandulog River below as I drove through rough roads built on the crest of mountains going from one steep embankment to another. I reckon that in significant sections of the road, the incline can go as high as a steady 70 degrees for many kilometers making one feel that you are really going uphil. The elevation map shows that undulating heights of the area can go as low as 100 meters below sea level to as high as 900 meters.

These topographic features of the area account for its remoteness despite its relative proximity to Iligan and Cagayan de Oro City. The fact is I have never driven through such a challenging terrain with a river crossing by a waterfall as an added attraction. The difficulty of travel may account for why the development of a trading hub for the goods coming to and from Bukidnon went the way of Cagayan de Oro instead of Iligan leading to the magnificent growth of the former.

The same factor may also be behind the rural feel of Rogongon. The barangay is home to a population that represents the tri-people of Mindanao – the Higaonon, Maranao, and Christian. Owing to the lay of the land, there are no big landholdings. Instead, the people engage in swidden farming along the slopes. They can only plant crops for subsistence and a few fruits that can survive the transportation challenges such as marang and durian.

A big area of the barangay is part of the ancestral domain of the higaonon a significant part of which is Mount Gabunan, a holy site for the people. It is the source of nourishment for generations of their tribe as well as a sacred place where they undertake their rituals and burials.

I don't know if its second nature to a sociologist but everytime I get the chance to travel, I always supplement the visceral experience of arriving at a place with a quick view of where it is in Google earth. It is a fascinating perspective, being above the clouds, looking at the distance of one’s travel relative to home. And a few insights came to me.

We are at the foothills of one of the grandest mountains of the country and I cannot help but observe that the political and economic development of the areas around it have been defined by the geographic exigencies of Mount Kitanglad. Roads obviously cannot traverse the mountain itself and so we have relegated our commercial and transport networks around it instead of through it.

All of these are poised to change with the near-completion of a modern highway which will connect Iligan City to Talakag, Bukidnon via Rogongon. Let us just hope that with the new road that will pass through their homeland, the Higaonons will be able to protect themselves from the onslaught of commerce.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on April 08, 2014.


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