Sebucal, Oroquieta City

A journey to Sebucal, Oroquieta’s farthest and remote barangay

The invitation from Councilor Ruvy Alay was tempting. Visit the village of Sebucal, the last barangay of Oroquieta City, during their patron’s feast day with clergymen, lay ministers and city officers.  There will be a mass, distribution of food and supplies and activities done by locals. Although I was a bit concerned about the initial brief: 8 hours walk to the village, being more concerned about my knee, Councilor Alay’s assurance that there are seniors who will also be doing the trip assuaged me a little. But more than that, I have always wanted to visit this part of Mindanao and discover more about the inhabitants, indigenous people who are from my tribal roots.

Sebucal, Oroquieta City
Long trek to Sebucal and along the way, these beautiful views. The river was our hope as it was late in the afternoon and our supply of water was gone, we drank and cooled off this stream.

Barangay Sebucal is situated within a beautiful valley in the Malindang Range. It’s where the headwater of the Layawan River emanates, the clear and wide body of water that meanders from these mountains, down to Oroquieta City and empties into the sea. It’s also a village where majority of the inhabitants are the Suban-on, people of the river who now populate the hinterlands of the Zamboanga Peninsula by choice, as the Christian migrants from Luzon and the Visayas displaced them in the lowlands decades ago. My paternal grandmother is from this tribe too, but from south of the province.

I was unprepared for the trek, both physically and mentally with the least of gear. But I made it, despite the pain and difficulty. At one point in the trail, I had to go barefoot.

The trek is no walk in the park. Although it ‘only’ took us six hours to the village, against the eight hours I was initially told, the descent from Barangay Lake Duminagat, a very steep and slippery downhill hike took us about two hours down and three hours up. It was the hardest point of the journey that tests your patience and mettle. There were four – five felled trees that you have to go above or under, holding on to roots and branches. But what made this trek difficult was that I was ill prepared for the trip with a knee pain flaring up again. I had to go slow, calculate my steps and relied on a sturdy staff for balance. Along the way, I was envious of Suban-on locals as they pass who were just running down or up. What took us hours to negotiate, they managed to do in just 20 minutes and hardly breaking into a sweat.

Sebucal, Oroquieta City
Clergymen and lay ministers were majority in the travel party as this was to celebrate the feast day of the barangay dedicated to the Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. There were baptisms too done in the village.

The village feast day was a simple one. A mass was said. Several children and some adults were baptized too. Because of its location, a priest only makes one visit per year, if at all. There were dance presentations too given by the school children. Although I was hoping there would be some sort of Suban-on traditional demonstrations, there were none. When the lay ministers first visited this barangay in 1994, there were around 148 families, now, only around 50 remained. Some have moved to Oroquieta City to work, some have transferred to other places due to marriage. Being a hotbed for communist rebels before also contributed to the decline in the population. And sadly, the tradition and culture of the Suban-ons were affected. Most children hardly speak their native tongue. The last timuay, the traditional village elder, died and has not been replaced. 

Sebucal, Oroquieta City
Clockwise from top right: Schoolchildren at the open area, a blood hungry leech that tried to bite and suck my blood at Barangay Lake Duminagat, our starting and ending point for the trek, Liquor is important in this mountain barangay, houses, some abandoned by their owners, at Barangay Sebucal

Despite the hardship and sad outlook, there’s hope in the horizon. There are plans to connect the village with several bridges via the municipality of Concepcion. A military detachment is now present that frequently patrols the surrounding area. With the promise of the parish to nurture more the village, the cultural decline might be stopped and addressed. The city government is also looking at how to secure the future of the area by preserving the traditions of the Suban-ons as well as make it a showcase for environmental protection and responsible tourism.

Sebucal, Oroquieta City
One of a few small and shallow hot springs with the water murky with the rains. But it wasn’t enough to stop us from taking a dip. The temperature is manageable, enough to soothe our aching bodies. Surprisingly, in the middle, one can see bubbles coming to the surface.

Sebucal is a lovely place. The mountains are lush with forests. There’s teeming wildlife in terms of birds with hornbills heard in the afternoon. I was told that there’s even a Philippine eagle flying sometimes overhead. With its high elevation at around 4,000 feet, it has a cool climate.But what really struck me most was the sight of the forested mountains surrounding the village. During afternoons or early morning, fog sets in or rises as the morning sun starts to peer down the clouds. The landscape is just so dramatic that I can just stop, gaze into the scenery and be in awe of the beauty spreading before me. But at the same time, I’m hopeful that a beautiful future for Sebucal is starting to unfold.

Sebucal, Oroquieta City
Barangay Sebucal as seen from the promontory, just right before the steep and slippery descent to the village. For us, it took 2-3 hours to negotiate. For the Suban-ons, just 20 minutes.
Sebucal, Oroquieta City
The valley is teeming with forests and wildlife. In the afternoon, hornbills are heard making their calls, which means this is a healthy forest. A Philippine eagle has also been sighted.
Sebucal, Oroquieta City
The herbalist, Benildo Butalid, Jr. at around 60 years old has been gathering herbs, seeds and roots for the past 20 years where he mixes these with coconut oil, Kulafu (a kind of alcoholic drink). These concoctions he places in bottles starts at 120 pesos per bottle. He claims that these are taken to cure poison, stomach ailments and as liniments.
Being in the mountains and with a cool climate, the barangays in the area make a living thru growing fruits, vegetables and flowers usually delivered to Dipolog. This man was transporting a bunch of calla lilies.
Sebucal, Oroquieta City
Early in the morning, this view greeted me while on my way to the hot spring. Verdant with trees, grasses and other vegetation.
Sebucal, Oroquieta City
Our party of clergymen, lay ministers and LGU people from our trip in Sebucal and returning to Oroquieta City aboard these dump trucks

Estan Cabigas is freelance photographer, blogger and writer based in Makati City, the Philippines. A true blue Cebuano, he makes stunning images and meaningful photo stories. His work has been published in local and international publications including National Geographic Magazine, Geo (Germany), Sunday Times Magazine (London) and other publications. He is also a peripatetic traveler and has traveled to all 81 Philippines provinces. I'm open for work, collaborations and inquiries, including hotel, restaurant and site features and reviews.

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