Ethnic Groups of the Philippines

The Sangil People of Sarangani Islands


28 March 2018

SARANGANI, Philippines – The unspoiled Sarangani Island, located in the province of Davao Occidental, is a perfect escape for folks looking for a secluded travel destination. The municipality, which is made up of two big islands called Balut and Sarangani, can be accessed through a chartered ferry from General Santos City or via a small fishing boat from Sarangani Province. The bay served a very important role in olden times when it became the artery for the first civilization in this area of mainland Mindanao.

When Dutch colonists took over Indonesia in the 16th century, many Indonesians from the Sangihe Islands located in the border area of North Sulawesi (Indonesia) and Mindanao (Philippines) made an exploratory expedition in the Philippines. They realized that it was favorable to settle in the Philippines and took advantage of the economic opportunities, particularly in southern Mindanao. These people have since become Filipino citizens and are called Sangil, a name derived from their place of origin.

The Sangils are among the 13 Muslim ethnolinguistic groups in the Philippines and are estimated to number almost 10,000. Although most of its population is concentrated in Balut and Sarangani islands, some can also be found living in some coastal region of South Cotabato and Davao del Sur provinces. They speak a language similar to Bahasa and Tausug and engage in fishing as a major source of livelihood. A number of old Sangil families can trace lineages that go back many centuries, while a handful can trace their ancestry to Maguindanao or the Buayan Sultanate of Cotabato.

The western side of Mindanao up to the Sulu Archipelago is the core concentration of the Muslims in the Philippines. Muslim missionaries introduced Islam and indoctrinated the Sangils, who have been devoted followers since. Subsequently, Christian proselytizers also visited the island, compelling the two groups to live harmoniously together for a time. The Sangils are well known for their expertise in boat making and helped in uprisings against the Spanish authorities in other regions of the country. They assisted by donating vessels, weapons, and fighters in clashes.

Today almost all 12 barangays of Balut Island are populated with Sangils living alongside different ethnic groups such as the B’laan and Manobo. Meanwhile, a burial site of the first Sangil settlers in the area can be found in Batuganding Point.

Many Indonesian migrants have been in and out of the Philippines seeking greener pastures. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees found approximately 9,000 people in Mindanao, many of whom are undocumented. Fortunately, this concern was addressed by the Indonesian government through the efforts made by the Philippine government and Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Image from Becoming Filipino,