Buluan is one of those places I consider so near I could almost touch it; and yet, so far and out of reach.
It sat very close to my hometown, only two or three towns away; and yet, I never heard of Buluan until after three decades I was born. This won’t explain the whole story.
I first discovered Buluan in 2003, when I was part of the team tasked to document the proceedings of the Mindanao Peace Institute (MPI) workshops, where participants from conflict areas around the world spent a week or two learning about peace in Mindanao.
Those workshops culminated on a trip to the conflict areas of Mindanao. On the road, we passed by the Maguindanao town of Buluan.
The ceasefire with Moro fighters were on the papers when organizers boarded the participants in vans that travelled in a convoy to see, among others, the zone of peace in the conflict areas of Pikit, Cotabato and to interview people in Muslim and Christian communities affected by the raging war between government forces and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and even before it, the Moro National Liberation Front.
I sat next to a bunch of South Koreans, a Canadian and an American who kept talking about how they could never understand why Filipinos could elect Imelda Marcos and her children back to power; [[Are we short on memory or IQ? I was tempted to challenge them but refrained]]; and a young German woman who kept so quiet for most of the trip.
When the van left the Davao-Cotabato highway in Makilala to follow the road leading to the towns of M’lang, Tulunan and Buluan, I was aghast to realize that like the foreigners next to me, I was also traveling that part of Mindanao for the first time.
As soon as we reached Buluan, the first things that caught my eyes were women and men in the midst of a harvest, their clothes flapping like tiny bright specks in the distance; the nipa-thatched huts huddled close to the ground and a beautiful mosque in the midst of the green fields.
Later, in a town of Sultan sa Barongis, I saw egrets feasting in the swamp; and realized that like them, I, too, was a stranger there.
I would hear of Buluan again on November 23, 2009, when a group of journalists left and met their death on the way to Shariff Aguak. But this was another story.