Sulu Garden began with the acquisition in 1997 of the current home office beside the creek that transects the main circumferential highway around the island of Panay in the town of Miag-ao. The property was an abandoned bakery built in the 1980s surrounded by swampy ground and a forest of bananas and other trees. The Spanish stone bridge, built by the Spanish Expeditionary Army in 1873, was the original reason for its acquisition by Sulu Garden’s founder, Jonathan R. Matias. This bridge, whose name remains controversial, was never before found on any historic heritage list and was forgotten. The Bridge and the Creek are also considered enchanted by the people of Miag-ao because of the legend of the native princess named Ulay-ra and her golden ship that passes through the night.
Sulu Garden and the 1873 Spanish stone bridge [Photos by Nick Foster]
The transformation of the property began in 2010, where the original structure was preserved, landscaping was done and the river stone wall was built to prevent flash flood damage and erosion, as well as the restoration of the Spanish Bridge with the approval of the Municipal Government of Miag-ao. Since its opening in 2012, Sulu Garden had been the site of conferences, meetings, art shows and heritage research.
Community involvement over the years included partnerships with different organizations to conduct medical missions in villages normally unreachable by public agencies. Often, such Medical Missions were conducted through the assistance of the Philippine Army’s 61st Infantry Battalion based in Camp Monteclaro in Miag-ao.
The uniquely designed garden itself became a showcase of biodiversity and nature conservation over the last decade. The creek, once strewn by garbage and debris, is now alive with native freshwater fish and those fish that migrate from the sea into rivers, like eels and tarpon. Sulu Garden became our jumping-off point to begin cataloguing biodiversity, heritage and culturally important sites within Miag-ao. From native pottery making, native plants, diverse mountains and culture of the different villages became possible with the help of historians and those with a mutual interest in conservation. Making this effort in Miag-ao serves as a test case for expansion of programs in Panay Island and then to the other islands that border the Sulu Sea.
The company’s social responsibility program has been made possible through the contributions from other companies and concerned private individuals. In order to formalize and expand the activities to achieve our non-profit mission, Sulu Garden Foundation was incorporated.