The weather was cool and the breeze felt nippy. The panorama from the balcony we were standing on was incredible. From our vantage, we can see the sprawling land filled by trees. It felt like we were in Tagaytay City but for the crescent moons topping the graceful roofs of mosques and minarets. We were in a military camp in Sulu, Camp Bud Datu.
From the MBLT-6 Camp in Patikul, where we were based during our four-day stay in Sulu, our convoy of three trucks, a bulletproof SUV and a tank clambered up the mountainous region of Sulu to visit the eco-tourism center at the town of Indanan at Bud Datu.
The mood inside the truck was light, a few of the marines were even exchanging jokes with us, telling us that finally they’d get a chance to have Starbucks Coffee once more. A mocha frappucino perhaps? Everyone really thought it was just a joke until we finally alighted at the camp’s view deck.
Well, it was just a mock Starbucks Cafe (heck, they even have another mock 7-11 as their ship store), but the place they chose as their coffeehouse was quite impressive. Perched on the side of the mountain, it overlooks the rest of Sulu Island. It felt like I was in Starbucks Tagaytay, only, instead of sipping a dark mocha frappucino, I’m having kahawa sug, Sulu’s very own brew.
Camp Bud Datu is Marine Battalion Landing Team 9’s home, but they’re trying to convert it to something more; an eco-tourism site. With the current situation, tourism in Sulu would be highly problematic though. Just imagine the number of escorts we have, and you get the picture.
It may seem overkill for those unfamiliar with the peace and order situation in the province, but overhearing someone say that they’d rather do escort services for those visiting the island than perform a search and rescue effort for the party, it would not seem so overkill. Those words are definitely not to be taken lightly.
Which is just sad. While sipping my coffee at the rest house, I can see a few islands rimmed with what looks like white sand across Jolo. It looked really promising as tourist sites. Well, not to mention the Quezon Beach in Patikul which we visited a few days ago.
The plan for the day was to visit the Salo Firing Range Complex within Camp Bud Datu, but before anything else, we were sat down at a long table and served with a variety of dishes; pancit canton, adobong pusit, tinapa, siomai and sati—a Mindanao treat made from cubed chicken and liver and dipped on a sweet spicy sauce.
En route to the firing range, we were told that Camp Bud Datu holds the shrine of Raja Baginda, Sulu’s first Sultan. He ruled the island from the year 1390 to 1460 and this is where his tomb lies. It’s probably the reason for the mountain’s name; Bud Datu, meaning Royal Mountain or Hill of Rulers.
A few minutes later and we were holding heavy military armaments; M4’s, M16’s, Colt .45’s. It was my first time to hold such weapons and I have to be honest; even if I’m a pacifist by heart, these really looked bad-ass. One from our group declined the activity based on principles, but this is just too rock n’ roll to pass up on.
Having seen and read too many war movies and books, it was finally time to experience the sound and the feel of a recoiling gun. We were given an ultra-complicated looking M16 to shoot a target of about 25 meters and as I lay flat on my stomach, feet apart, I breathed in, softly pulled the trigger and breathed out.
I fired a total of nine shots, my ears ringing each time, the sound of ozone prominent as each shell ejected from the firearm. From the muffled talk I heard from the instructors, I knew I did good; but I was just not prepared at how good. Eight of my nine shots were spot on, with only a single one straying a few millimeters from target.
We then tried the Colt .45, not the beer, but the gun; and again, same results. Not bad for a pacifist flower power kid from Malabon. Sniper material is me. Lol.
It would’ve been nice to have a few shots of Colt .45, the beer, not the gun before moving back down to Patikul, but the day was already waning. The sky turned to a palette of pastels and by dusk, we all clambered back to our trucks and the butterflies danced in my stomach once more.