KIDAPAWAN CITY, Philippines — Experience the wonders of nature, sip the pristine waters and enjoy the freezing mountain breeze at the foothills of Mt. Apo at Paniki Falls in the tribal village of Mook, Balabag this city.
We travelled under the prickly heat of the morning sun and I was quenching for a cold water when we reached the foothills of Mt. Apo, specifically Umpan Village, Sitio Mook.
Just when I disembarked from our vehicle, the cold wind, the fresh air and the hospitality of the Manobo community amazed me and my companions.
The village of Balabag, a Manobo community of over 1,000 voters is under developed mainly because people refused development for fear it might displace them and destroy mother nature.
Melody, lady tourist guide narrated that their community largely depend on farming and growing indigenous crops for a living.
Protecting the forest is their utmost priority as they consider the forest and rivers their life. There were birth pains before the November 20, 2017 opening of the Paniki Eco River Park.
The falls they consider a “Gift from Magbabaya” or gift from God, is 800 feet deep and stands in an altitude of about 1,140 above sea level. It is characterized by a crystal clear water and very rich in flora and fauna.
In the early 70’s, the area was a colony of paniki or bats. “You can see bats anytime and children can even play with the birds here,” Eduardo Umpan, the tribal chieftain said. But when the people in the neighboring villages started to encroach the community, the “paniki” slowly moved upland beside the falls.
One cannot feel the 45-minute walk while trecking the falls. In every step there is wonder and there is adventure as you can see the clear water flowing from the roots moving towards the river, a water that anyone can drink.
Walking would not be boring as one can hear the rhythm of the humming birds, symphony of the water drops and the cascading waters of the river with the breezing cold of the misty forest.
Treckers will experience criss-crossing Paniki river by passing through seven indigenous bridges characterrized by the distinct Manobo traits; Mosandog (Matino) –Motoggas (Matigas ) –Movuut (Matapang) , Molihonnoy ( Maganda), Moko Ima-ima (Kaakit-akit) -Moko ayyaw ayyam (Kaibig-ibig) monokka (mALAKS) –movaasa (Maginoo) and –Movigkas (Makisig).
Umpan, the tribal leader said it took sometime before his people agreed to open the falls to the public “We want to protect the remaining resources we have and we do not want people to destroy our sanctuary” he said in the vernacular.
Developing the Paniki Falls as a tourist destination was carefully deliberated as the city government wants to preserve the people and their culture. The agreement was a collective decision, said Mayor Joseph Evangelista.
“We have to be careful because we do not want to touch their sensitivity and their way of preserving their culture,” he added.
Walking and crossing the Paniki rivers up to the falls entails 45-minute walk crossing the same river nine times but you won’t feel the pressure of walking as indigenous peoples living in the area serving as guides explains how they use the herbs and plants for their illness and for livelihood.
Evangelista said there is a need to preserve the culture of the Manobos in the community “We hire them as tour guides because we want every tribesmen ushering every tourist to educate them the importance of preserving their community, the community, the land that their great grand parents till and lived for.”
The city government of Kidapawan invested for the development of the road and community facilities while tourist guides were employed “To ensure that everyone gets their share in protecting the environment and at the same time provide livelihood for the people, Evangelista is advocating for quality, low volume, high impact -high value experience”
City Tourism Officer Joey Recimilla told me “Between the busy streets and the noise of development, I find my comfort zone here in Paniki, the energy from the trees and the waters and the forest gives me a natural kind of energy to push for the preservation of the wonderful destination but I am appealing to every tourism–please protect Paniki Falls and other gift of Mother Earth, this is a gift from God that no man can make.”
Trecking the Paniki falls is not just revisiting mother nature and Mt. Apo, it also means supporting the community-based tourism. It is also about respecting the life and culture of the Manobo and the contribution to their effort for the protection and conservation of Mother Nature.
On our way back to the community, I told myself “If Magbabaya give this wonderful falls for free, why can’t we share to protect it?.”-Editha Z. Caduaya/Newsline.ph