WANDERLUST| Moncadistas and macaques in mystical New Israel

THE COOL elevation, fresh mountain breeze and breathtaking views of lush forests make New Israel an ideal summer destination especially for those who fancy nature and adventure with a bit of the occult.

Over the years, New Israel has become famous for three reasons: the presence of the Moncadistas, a nationalistic-patriotic quasi-religious sect; the colony of tourist-loving long-tailed macaque monkeys; and its scenic, 24 kilometer trail to Mt. Apo, the country’s highest peak.

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However, prior to the Moncadistas, the original inhabitants of the area were the Bagobo tribe, headed by their late leader Datu Kayawon Padayag. New Israel’s social landscape changed when Moncadista leader Maximino Guibernas of Cebu introduced his sect to the locals in the 1950s. He named the place New Israel, in reference to Mindanao as “The Land of Promise”.

The Moncadistas believe in Jesus Christ, but also regard Dr. Jose Rizal a prophet, thus, images and teachings of the national hero can be found all over the area.

Since then, Guibernas, well-loved in the community, established various religious sites in New Israel, including a settlement in nearby Makalangit, and erected a concrete cross at the peak of Mt. Zion, considered a holy ground.

When he died, the Moncadistas built a mausoleum in his memory, which is now one of the religious attractions of New Israel.

Aside from the Moncadistas’ religious rituals, people visit New Israel to mingle with its “other” residents, the macaque monkeys. The playful primates, around a hundred of them, have been living harmoniouly with the community for more than five decades now. Their current alpha male is christened “Mike” by the locals.

To befriend the mischievous monkeys, you can feed them with bananas and other fruits (available from local stores and from guides). Expect a troop to welcome​ you and accept your friendly offering. While some are a bit shy, most of them are uber friendly that they often give guests a surprise leap on their shoulders and grab whatever their nimble hands can snatch. They might appear tamed but remember that they are still wild animals, so, be very wary.

For adventure-seekers, New Israel, which is an eco-tourism park, also offers rides depending on the degree of one’s need for outdoor action. A horseback ride for those who want a relaxing gallop, and then there’s a 2.2-kilometer heart-stopping, high adrenaline zipline ride (for PhP400 with a certificate and free foto of your adventure), said to be Asia’s longest.

A haven for backpackers, homestays (for as low as PhP500) are available to those who need more than a day for a more immersive encounter with the local community. Food and other provisions can be readily bought in sari-sari stores. Civet coffee, served in local eateries for PhP75 a cup, is a must-try.

Locals are also trained to make and sell souvenirs for as low as PhP50 a piece for ref magnets and key chains. So, don’t forget to grab one and support local entrepreneurs.

New Israel is just around 2 hours away from Davao City, so make it a part of your summer itinerary. To get there, take a van enroute to Cotabato City or Kidapawan City, then drop off at Makilala town proper. From there, take a jeepney ride to Barangay New Bulatukan, then a 15-minute “habal-habal”ride to New Israel. Local town guides are available to give you a tour around the area.

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