Bud Bongao is a treasure trove of biodiversity and one of the last moist forests in the Sulu Archipelago. It is among the landmarks of Tawi-Tawi and renowned as a sacred mountain by locals and visitors alike.
One of its local residents is 60-year old Mr. Rudy Hamja, whom everyone calls Imam Rudy. Imam Rudy has been climbing Bud Bongao almost every day over the last three years. He hikes up the mountain every day except Friday, ascending for 30 minutes and descending in as little as 15 minutes – twice as fast as a regular pilgrim.
All this climbing has made Imam Rudy physically fit – making him look much younger than his age. Daily trekking has made him fit – but for him, it’s a calling.
Imam Rudy reverently cleans the mountain’s Tampat or shrines. At the peak, he prepared a shaded area made out of bamboo and a bench made out of coconut stalks. “I want pilgrims to have a nice place to rest after climbing Bud Bongao,” he shares. He also created a small prayer room for those who want to pray.
Not forgetting the famous monkeys of Bud Bongao, Imam Rudy planted fruit-bearing trees to someday feed them too. He has spent his own time and money to make this happen.
"I am doing all of this for a cause. As long as I can manage to climb Bud Bongao, I will do it with all my heart. I’m not earning from this, but I believe that the souls of our ancestors are there, watching over us,” he adds.
Through the years, Bud Bongao's forest cover has been declining. A noticeable number of Philippine Monkeys (Macaca fascicularis) for example, are becoming rarer. Considered as a nearly threatened species, these monkeys used to inhabit the mountain. Their decline can be attributed to the destructive activities done in Bud Bongao including the cutting of trees, the clearing of land for agriculture and the irresponsibility of visitors to the area.
WWF-Philippines, PTFCF and the local Bud Bongao Management Council aims to change and regulate all anthropological activities which negatively affect the biodiversity of the mountain by enhancing local management capacity and by streamlining information, education and communication to local communities.
Concludes Hamja, “They continuously give me the strength and courage to do all I can to preserve Bud Bongao for tomorrow’s pilgrims. Someday, I want to look after them too, when my soul resides here.”
Mr. Rudy Hamja at one of the Tampat or shrines in Bud Bongao, Tawi-Tawi's most famous peak and one of the sites WWF conserves in the Philippines. (WWF-Philippines)
For more information, contact:
Ms. Zenaida Mohammad
Tawi-Tawi Site Coordinator, WWF-Philippines
Mr. Paul Saludar
Project Development Officer, WWF-Philippines