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KISSAH AND DAWAT: Bongao (Tawi-Tawi) as a Sexagenarian

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BONGAO, Tawi-Tawi (MindaNews / 1 July)—Bongao, the capital town of the province of Tawi-Tawi, celebrates its 66th founding anniversary today, July 1.

When Tawi-Tawi was established as a separate province from Sulu by President Marcos Sr. in 1973, Bongao had already existed for 15 years as a municipality, established by Executive Order No. 355 signed by President Carlos P. Garcia in 1958, which converted certain municipal districts into municipalities.

Congratulations to the local leaders and residents on this milestone. The town is now the hub of growing ecological and cultural tourism activities in the province. With new sea and air routes, we anticipate increased demand for tourism-related activities. The town also continues to evolve as the shopping destination for nearby municipalities. It is considered among the few peaceful towns in the region, with stable local government and leadership that has been recognized with several Seals of Good Local Governance (SGLG) and similar awards and recognitions.

Now at 66 years old, if Bongao were human, it would be considered a sexagenarian, aged between 60 and 69. Bongao, as a municipality, can be seen as undergoing its own developmental stages. Metaphorically considering Bongao at its 66th anniversary: In terms of physical development, Bongao may show signs of maturity in its infrastructure and urban development compared to other municipalities in the province and even across the region. There is optimism about the positive impact of the ongoing ADB-funded bridge construction connecting its islands to the mainland. Even the municipal and provincial capitol buildings are being planned to move out of their present locations.

However, with its growing urbanization and population, maintaining and modernizing established facilities and services poses ongoing challenges. As an urbanizing town, Bongao now faces challenges beyond housing, traffic, and waste management, requiring sustainable solutions to keep pace and to be on top of the game.

Bongao must now think beyond its physical boundaries. Its success as a safe and livable place has attracted migration from within Tawi-Tawi and across the insular provinces of the BARMM. It must lead and advocate for metro or inter-LGU alliances, such as the Metro Naga Development Council (MNDC), to get other LGUs on board their shared challenges and proposing complementary solutions. It will be too tough for the capital town of the province to face challenges associated with a growing population on its own. Addressing inadequate water supply, electricity, public transportation systems, roads, and bridges becomes crucial. Urbanization often leads to deforestation, loss of green spaces, air and water pollution, and increased carbon emissions, impacting public health and quality of life. The laidback pace of life in the 1980s is long gone; this is one of the prices we pay for urbanization. These days, the demand for housing, agriculture, commerce, and public spaces expands beyond Bongao and Sanga-Sanga Islands towards the mainland Tawi-Tawi boundaries of the municipality. Unmitigated encroachment could stress remaining forest, coastal, insular and marine ecosystems.

In terms of cognitive development, Bongao possesses a wealth of awards and recognitions, accumulated knowledge and experience in stable governance and community development, serving as a model among local government units in the province and regionally. However, with rapid demographic changes due to migration and population growth, local services must adapt. Immigration alters socio-cultural dynamics, necessitating adjustments and priorities in the local development plan. Bongao needs the support of neighbor LGUs, and higher authorities because the progress of the town will have repercussions across governance levels.

Regarding socio-emotional development, Bongao as a multicultural, multiethnic, multilingual and multireligious community currently emphasizes preserving its shared cultural heritage, promoting community cohesion, and addressing the needs of a growing population while ensuring sustainable growth for future generations. Bongao must guide its diverse communities to adapt to changing demographics while promoting social cohesion. The local government needs the cooperation of its people in pursuing development initiatives. Without the active support of its constituency, it will be more difficult for the local government to pursue sustainable and inclusive solutions.

Over the last decade, Bongao has experienced a cumulative population growth of 7.49%, stimulating local economic activity through increased consumer demand, labor supply, and entrepreneurship. Nonetheless, rapid population growth strains public infrastructure, particularly transportation networks, water supply systems, sanitation facilities, and energy grids. The need for more housing units increases, driving up demand for affordable housing. Failure to address this demand could lead to slums, illegal settlements, and encroachment on pedestrian spaces.

Bongao has made commendable efforts in collecting daily household and commercial wastes at strategic points. Kudos to its Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office (MENRO) team for their efficient work! However, critical actions such as waste segregation and recycling at the institutional level, alongside behavior change among constituents and visitors, are some of the sustainable actions needed for the long haul.

As the education and health center of the province, Bongao serves residents from islands as far as Siasi in Sulu, who come for public services such as education and health. With a burgeoning population, Bongao must expand social services, including healthcare, education, and welfare, to meet increasing needs. Failure to do so risks inequities and strains on public resources.

Drawing parallels between human development stages and Bongao’s municipal development helps us understand the unique challenges and opportunities it faces as it evolves and grows. Thus, the 2025 elections are crucial for Bongao’s sustainable growth. The next batch of local leaders must be competent in and should pursue urban planning, policy development, governance structures, sustainable development, equitable resource distribution, creative in accessing additional resources and support from upper echelon of government, and in strengthening citizen engagement to manage its diversifying and rapidly growing population effectively, and the demands of its urbanization.

Citizens of Bongao have important roles to play –

Let us continue to engage in local community activities and initiatives, such as attending town hall meetings, participating in clean-up drives, and joining local organizations or volunteer groups that work towards the betterment of the community.

Let us support and promote local businesses by buying and preferring healthy products and local produce.

Let us be mindful of water and energy usage, especially since our local power supply is powered by fossil fuel. Simple actions like fixing leaks, using energy-efficient appliances, and turning off lights when not in use can make a significant difference.

Let us practice and advocate for healthy and eco-friendly habits such as reducing single-use plastics, using reusable bags, and supporting initiatives that promote collective health and sustainability.

Let us opt for sustainable transportation methods when possible, such as walking and cycling. This way we help reduce traffic congestion and lower carbon emissions.

Let us be active in advocating and supporting policies that promote sustainable urban development, better public services, and environmental conservation.

Let us educate ourselves and others about the importance of sustainable practices and the challenges the town faces. Awareness can lead us to become more informed and proactive community members.

There are more out there that we can do as active citizen, volunteer or engaged.

For now, let us enjoy this milestone—Happy 66th anniversary, Bongao!

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Noor Saada is a Tausug of mixed ancestry—born in Jolo, Sulu, grew up in Tawi-Tawi, studied in Zamboanga and worked in Davao, Makati and Cotabato. He is a development worker and peace advocate, former Assistant Regional Secretary of the Department of Education in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, currently working as an independent consultant and is a member of an insider-mediation group that aims to promote intra-Moro dialogue.)

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