Friday, October 9, 2009

The Unforgettable Trip to Jolo, Sulu

When I heard that I was going to Sulu for a shoot, I almost fell off my chair in excitement. Despite all the warnings and numerous prevention measures by my friends, I was able to hop on a plane to Zamboanga City, for my Sea Air flight enroute to Jolo, the capital of Sulu.

I expected Sulu to be beautiful, after hearing all the nice places there from people who have been there. We were descending already when I saw these island patches and long sandbars, with houses on stilts. I have never seen anything like that. Well, if there were inhabitants there, then there must be a way of going there.

We landed at the airport, which was bombed a week before we arrived. The runway was being constructed, so we had to board a jeep to take us to the terminal. I must say, the military presence and feel of the place scared me a bit. And after hearing the news about the recent bombing, I really felt uneasy. But, excitement still won me over, and I hastily jumped into our jeepney service that was followed by a military police escort.

We arrived at our "hotel", the only safe place to stay at in Jolo, the Peacekeepers Inn, located inside the police compound. Well, I can't say much about the inn, only that it felt like a prison ward. Gates were high and barb wires surrounded the perimeter. I was told that this was where the media people stay, so they assured me we were going to be safe here. But then again, the police told me to tell him if I would go out of the inn, even just to cross the street to buy from the sari-sari store in front.

The weird and uneasy feeling didn't go away though. When we surveyed the town, I felt more scared. Jolo was unlike what I pictured it to be. It was dirty, arid, humid, dusty, noisy. It was so underdeveloped and mismanaged, that I felt I was in Africa. There was a huge mosque at the center of town which was quite a prominent building with its massive white walls.

After checking in, we went to do some work (shoot an interview that we conducted). Afterwards, we had lunch at a rundown restaurant. From 3 police escorts, we suddenly had 12, and I was told to ride the police car. I felt something was wrong, but they weren't talking. It was Ramadan, so the police, who were all Muslims, remained in their vehicles when we had lunch. I was happy to be served some dishes that I never had in my life, like the Black Soup as the locals call it. The Black Soup is actually like tinola (ginger chicken soup), only spicy and mixed with burnt coconut to give it a distinct flavor. I liked it though, along with a special kind of beef curry that was also served.

Anyway, after lunch, we were treated to a tour of Jolo. I saw more of the poverty that probably is the primary cause of the unrest here. The police told me that the people were so poor that they'd rather join the rebels (Abu Sayyaf) because they could make money from kidnapping, etc. It's a vicious cycle, and I think the situation will last longer unless the government really DOES something. I felt nothing was really being done.

We went to the capitol grounds, where the Sulu provincial capitol building was located. The building was grand, and looked like the Taj Mahal in a way. It was a nice area, and empty. Guards were at the gate, and regulated the entrance of people. There was a swimming pool and a lot of gardens. I just wished that this was Jolo all throughout. But it was just the capitol grounds.

I was encouraging everyone, even the police to take me to Quezon Beach, but they told me it was unsafe there. I was still persistent, so they took me to a beach nearby. As I approached the coastline, and finally breathed some fresher air, I was hoping we could stay for a while on the beach. However, the police car in front of the us took a sudden u-turn and our jeep followed. I was shouting to the driver to go straight, but we hurried away. I was then told that some bandits were closing in on us at the end of the road. Well, too much for an afternoon on the beach, which was so inviting with its bright hues of blue and white sand.

We went straight back to the inn for a break. We had some beer at the backyard, and even took a nap, before we were fetched at 6PM for dinner. All 12 of our police escorts, including the very friendly and accommodating police chief waited for 7PM, before having their fill. We had a seafood feast of crabs, grilled fish, fresh seaweed, squid and a whole lot more. There were several native delicacies served for dessert. Our hosts gave us some fruits to take home. We were supposed to go back to the capitol grounds to see the lights, but power was cut in the entire town, and it was again unsafe (the police spotted two motorcycles following us). So, we retired early to bed, well, just after having 2 rounds of beer.

My trip to Jolo in Sulu was indeed an unforgettable experience. I had so many mixed emotions about the place. I was so frustrated that I wasn't able to see the real beauty of the Sulu. I had to blame the bandits who just made the place virtually cut off from the rest of the world. Though most of the people on the street looked like terrorists, I found some of the people, especially the police and our hosts, very friendly. They were happy to see us, and more excited that they had visitors.

In the end, I found out from the police chief that there was an attempt to kidnap us. We would be more in danger if we stayed another day. Good thing we only spent a night. The entire gang took us to the airport and even waited for us for 2 hours to board the plane. They told us they wanted to make sure we were safe INSIDE the plane. It was an uneasy feeling, but comforting as well, that, in this restive place, there are who still care for others.


  1. Jolo was considered the most beautiful town in the Philippines up until the MNLF attack in February of 1974 and the whole town was burned and razed to the ground. After that, most of the minority christian family left. These families were the core of Jolo society. They lived peacefully and happily with the muslim majority and together they made Jolo a great place to live in. I was born and raised in Jolo until I went to college in Manila. I left in 1972 and never went back. I hope one of these days I will go back. I can go on and on lauding this what was once an island paradise....But what I really want to say is fuck Nur Misuari, and the only virgin hole he can get his dick in is if he can put it up his nose!

  2. I agree. All I remember about Jolo was how beautiful it was and I will never forget the food, fruits galore...

  3. may i know the contact number of the hotel you had checked in, i and my friends are planning to have a tour in basilan.

  4. basilan is entirely different island from Sulu. You might not need the contact num of the inn

  5. My friend and I sneaked onto a boat in Zamboanga back in 1995 and travelled that way to Jolo. The long pier was interesting and even more was the military escort to Quezon beach where we stayed with the marines for about a week. The muslims we met there were very nice to us in the little village near patikul. Sadly being an american I don't think it is a safe place to visit right now.

  6. Jolo, Sulu is my hometown...seeing these pics and reading the comments written made me feel sad as they say "the truth hurts" was indeed the truth...Jolo had been deserted by the National Government. and by Its own people as well...People who are in power, never cared for Jolo, lest their own lust for power and money only. It always pains me to see Jolo like this...afterall this was my beloved place, i grew up there and built memories that last forever...

  7. I would like to correct the statement made in Feb. 2010 " Jolo was not attacked by MNLF" it was the national government under the regime of Marcos that marked JOLO the town it is now....

  8. I just want to know the "Island Explorer's" definition of a "terrorist" because I am so amazed of this statement: "Though most of the people on the street looked like terrorists..." maybe it's kind of some ignorant stereotypical harshly labeling those people just because the writer does not belong there. How I wish writers avoid such unholy and sensitive statements...just because we are Muslims you equated us to terrorist! Wake up people!

    By: Winsoul Jam

  9. there is no such place like home,its been six years i didnt went to jolo.. yeah its true,really hurts reading a comments like some of us,but INSHAALLAH,if only the people in jolo would cooperate in each other,spread the peace and love each other for the sake of ALLAH,jolo will be better more than before.

  10. i highly agree with anonymous regarding, cooperating towards peace..=) i long wanted to go explore sulu but i was warned of all the danger i'll get from there..i plan to go alone kasi and babae pa ko..hai sana lalake nlng ako..pano po ba makstay dun ng secure?may dapat po ba ko kausapin???

  11. Salam!( peace to all)! Please be it known to non Sulu residents that it was the Luzon media thru the military spokesperson who poison the mind of people about the destruction of Jolo. How on earth the MNLF would burn Jolo when in fact it is their place, their brethren's place and one of the place they are defending from. Yes! you are right my Dear visitor my beloved hometown, Sulu is absolutely stunning! Given the chance to regain what it was before Marcos, Boracay would stay far behind. The fruits their have always have the unique and strong flavour due to its organic in nature, the tree owners just let the mother nature to take care and the seasons come, ahhhh, they are all in abundance!
    The sea is almost crystal clear everywhere plus the wealth of marine life. I remember my grandpa saying he dont like the ride feeling of jeepneys nowadays, I asked him why. He said in his time it was very relaxed and smooth and I came to realised it was an american car as per as the pictures, heheheh! Those are the days!

  12. No doubt Sulu has all the potential for tourism, but as long as the image is tainted, it will take longer to regain its past glory. I really wish all the rebels will see that tourism can make their islands better, and the people richer as well.

  13. If you had not gone yet or stayed in Jolo for along period, we must avoid to comment regarding the Jolo situation so as not to hurt the feelings of our Tausug brothers. We were in Jolo in the year 1973-74 experiencing the bombing of Jolo, but before that tragedy, Jolo was such a peaceful and organized community though there is a curfew during that time, we stroll at night around 7 pm, a community with organize commercial zoning area, a friendly tausug citizen which i befriended some of my classmates at sulu high, a rebels were not an abu sayyaf but an ideologues, and they were in a a far flung areas like our npas, hoping that someday this area will also became another boracay of our time.

  14. I was so shock 'bout your comment regarding SULU mainly JOLO. Although a bit hurting on my side because i grown up there but i sometimes agree on it. About your stay in Peace Keeper's INN from the word itself. We are just protecting you, not letting you feel like prison. You can entertain yourself and talk to my mother which is the manager of that INN. I promise you, you will not only entertain but you will learn a lot. tanx for ur comment again!

  15. heading to jolo next week, and I hope I wont be forced to get a police escort... i'm the "people" type and i'd rather that i'm the one scared rather than the people scared of me.. hehe



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