The Road Less Traveled: Passing by Maguindanao

Originally posted at Habagat.i.ph on 21 May 2022

Ampatuan Residence, Sharrif Aguak, Maguindanao

Ampatuan Residence, Sharrif Aguak, Maguindanao

Two years ago, I couldn’t believe that I crossed for what they say, one of the most treacherous highways in the country. Only a few years ago, during the Estrada Administration, the only thing that you see here are bombshells, mortars, evacuating people and guns, guns and more guns. Crossfire was everywhere, and media blows it all up in Manila.

That was several years ago. The waring factions agreed upon a ceasefire while two bodies of negotiators tried to resolve this centuries-old conflict. Me, I’m busy with my thesis, and will trace the path that most of my thesis respondents’ took to the Land of Promise, and it was through that path that they took the road, or maybe a way less traveled.

And now, on the headlines again, this side of this tropical state in the Philippines has a lot of potential when it comes to resources and tourism. A lot of things that are still untapped because of unreliable peace and order and poltical suitation in Maguindanao.

I believe that this highway is one of the most well-paved in the country. The shuttle van zoomed effortlessly through the fields and the hills of Sultan Kudarat, then to Maguindanao all the way to Cotabato City within just less than 2 hours.

One October morning, it was Ramadan for our Muslim brethen. I’ve been wanting to see the entrepot of my subjects in my thesis: Cotabato City, almost a hundred kilometers away from Tacurong City in Sultan Kudarat Province. And boy the van in Tacurong terminal was waiting to be filled up. I have to be there early, or else I’ll be stranded in Cotabato City without any idea where to sleep over. So, I went up to Isulan, the capital of the province, passing through palm oil plantations that are owned by Negrense hacienderos. Isulan is where most of Cotabato bound buses and vans pass by. One of the largest Christian settlements in Central Cotabato.

As we zoomed ourselves from Isulan by around 8AM, we were passing by ricefields, in full vista of the Teduray Mountains in the west. Surprisingly Mount Apo in the eastern side with its silhouette basked in morning sun and Mount Matutum in the south, somewhat like her sister in Bicol. We passed by Allah River, the lifeline of Allah Valley and Isulan-Esperanza area, and was also remembered as a rampaging white wall of water that claimed lives in 1995 after its headwaters in Lake Maughan bursted, blaming to mining activities.

As we crossed the border between Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao, I got excited that for the first time, I was in the heart of the Bangsamoro. The landscape started to change. Barrios dotted with mosques and ricefields were getting less the farther we go inland. Still, the van was speeding up like a bullet train, we whisked ourselves passing by the town of Ampatuan.

Tamontaka River, Cotabato

Tamontaka River, Cotabato

But what brought me the shock and awe was when I passed by Sharrif Aguak, the capital town of Maguindanao Province (which by the way, in 2006 Maguindanao was divided into two provinces and the newly formed province was named Sharrif Kabunsungan) when this magnificent palace of the Ampatuans (who ruled Maguindanao as a modern sultan) rose among the plain nipa huts of the ordinary people. The magnificent palace was accompanied by the golden mosque inside the compound. A few meters from it is the new capitol of Maguindanao, like an intricate jewelbox in the hills, it manifests Moro architecture.

We went further deep into the Maguindanaoan heartland and the road went uphill with military posts and checkpoints of both AFP and MILF dotted along the road. Along the hillsides, ricefields were replaced by coconut groves and unused land. Population became sparse as we apprached Talitay and Talayan, two hilltop towns, and we are still 40 minutes away from Cotabato City.

Several kilometers onward, we approached a very busy town and noticed flagpoles with colors flying in their town. Busy streets with a lot of people selling goods. I think it was market day in Datu Odin Sinsuat (as referred locally as DOS) at that time, Seeing the town hall that as majestic as her sister in Cotabato City, manifesting the intricate art of the Maguindanaoan people. The crowd was a relif from desolation between the cabisera and DOS. I thought that within 10 minutes, we will be in the city, but I was wrong.

Zooming away past DOS, settlements along the roadside increases as we approach Awang, the site of Cotabato City’s airport and a barangay of the said town. The The homeland of the Tedurays in your left, steep and cogon-laid hills, while on the right were the marshes of Liguasan. Majority of Cotabato is somewhat like a lake, especaially in Maguindanao and the present day Sharrif Kabunsungan province. Due to the Pulangi River or Rio Grande de Mindanao, the plains are flooded and vast amounts of fish, flora and fauna and rumored oil reserves abound here. It was here that the people of Maguindanao derived their name, “Ranao”

Finally, we were in Awang, a crossroad community north of DOS. The location of Cotabato City’s airport and the gateway to the Teduray Highlands of Upi and the coastal towns of Sultan Kudarat province. As our van squeezes in on its narrow and crowded street, we were getting the feeling that we were near the city. As we get the glance of Awang airport in the left, we went uphill and finally descend to cross the southern branch of Rio Pulangi, Tamontaka, marking the entrance of the Bangsamoro cabisera that is also known as the Stone Fortress City.

That morning, in less than two hours time, my excitement of exploring new vista and terra gave me so much that it overwhelmed me. It was my first time that I crossed the comforts of my home down south. I wondered how the pioneers felt when they went here for the first time.

There are so many things other than passing by the highway or reading or seeing it thru the eyes of sensationalized national media. A culture and a place vastly unexplored and misunderstood. Maguindanao has a lot to offer.

Some tips in going to Cotabato City and the surrounding places:

  1. Check with the local DOT or Provincial/Local Information Centers for updates or local situationers.
  2. If you are coming from General Santos or Southern Cotabato and wanted to go to Cotabato City, the only bus liner that serves this line is Husky and the rest are van for hire. The earliest possible time to leave South Cotabato or Sultan Kudarat is 6AM and the last trip is at 4PM either going through Tacurong City or Surallah.
  3. In case that you have the feeling that you cant go home immediately, contact anyone you know from the place or go to the City Hall for the list of hotels and accommodations.
  4. Set your appointments.  If there are no importnant appointments then better postpone or cancel it. If you still want to move on, go to the local authorities to consult.
  5. There are three possible ways to get to Cotabato City or the rest of Maguindanao. One is through direct flights from Manila and Cebu. The second one is through the sea via Zamboanga and the third is through land either coming from Zamboanga, GenSan, Cagayan or Davao.
  6. Bring your spartan self and the respect for other cultures.
  7. Have fun! Relax. Don’t get paranoid over news and heresays.

The Ampatuan mansion on Google Maps:

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19 comments to The Road Less Traveled: Passing by Maguindanao

  • bisitalangpo

    Mas maganda sana kung nakunan ng litrato ang mga kubong nakapaligid sa Palasyo ni Ampatuan, ang gobernador ng Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, na talamak sa kahirapan.

  • Gustohin ko man kaso ambilis ng van. Sana nga tumambay ako sa Sharrif Aguak noon kaso nagmamadali ako mapa-Cotabato nun.

  • Tania

    Amazing! Not clear for me, how offen you updating your habagatcentral.com.
    Thank you

  • lantaw

    there was a time while working for UN’s SPCPD project when I took this route daily, at balikan pa. sometimes I leave Cotabato city at around 4PM

  • Laarni

    *goosebumps* Thanks for sharing.

  • aduh

    How sad … terrible display of wealth amidst blinding poverty. May decency pa kaya sila? May pinagaralan ba ang mga yan? Nakakahiya at nakakasuka…please change the title the house of EVIL and MONSTERS of Maguindanao.

  • damed the ampatuan

    shame on this family, sana mayor duterte i banned muna sila dito sa davao wag muna sila hayaang makapasok dito, ibalik ang ilaga….

  • yuk

    Makita sana ninyo ang MGA bahay nila sa Davao. Most of the Ampatuans attend college in Davao. Chopsuey tawag namin sa mga palasyo nila- walang ka-taste taste… Mga baboy ang nakatira. RIP sa mag biktima.

  • abu

    dapat pati mga Generals ng AFP and PNP palitan dahil sila ang kasamang yumaman dahil ang guns and ammo nila pina rere rent sa mga mga muslim wardlords na mga politicians; isang cause din yan na marami ang namamatay na mga sundalo natin- namamatay sa sariling guns and ammo.

  • mikel john uy

    the family of this people should be burned in the stake…..thier women be raped by pigs….hindi mga taong baboy kundi mga totoong baboy…..ang mga putang Ampatuan na nag aaral sa Davao ay dapat kundinahin kahit na ang pinaka bata pa sa kanila…..walang iiwang hindi luhaan sa kanila….people should realize this…..this is war!

  • www.pinoyscoop.com

    The Road Less Traveled: Passing by Maguindanao | HabagatCentral.com…

    And now, on the headlines again, this side of this tropical state in the Philippines has a lot of potential when it comes to resources and tourism. A lot of things that are still untapped because of unreliable peace and order and poltical suitation in …

  • arvin macabasco

    …good day sir and thanks for sharing ….. : ))…..pa re-post also sir : )) thanks much !!

  • joy javierto

    grabe tlaga dna tutulog ang dyos may kakalagyan din ang mga gumawa ng karumaldumal n pagpatay n yan lets pray for justice…

  • YVONNE

    The Ampatuans are not really Muslim because they did not live up to the culture and beliefs of a real Muslim.. .THEY ARE EVIL ! ! If they are really Muslim why they allow these things happen ? Pero meron din katapusan ang lahat esp. the Ampatuan in Davao. . . Don’t you know kahit sa kalsada dito sa Davao BIDA yan sila . . .kahit nakared light humaharorot pa rin ng takbo kasama yong bodyguard. . Yon pala maghatid lang ng kanilang studyante naka battle gear pa mga bodyguard. . KADIRE TINGNAN DITO SA SKUL SA DAVAO. .

  • Leia

    thanks for posting…i’m sure you were scared the whole time you were…you should not have worried though…maguindanao and cotabato city are relatively peaceful…it’s the media hype in manila that scares the people away. i used to live in maguindanao, went to school in cotabato city. haven’t gone back for quite some time. i love the place, though…i love the people. it’s just some people are drunk with power and money that they start to believe they are god and claim the lives of innocent people who cross their path. i pray justice for the victims and that the perpetrators be prosecuted to the full extent and force of the law. i know someday the people of maguindanao and cotabato will find the peace that they deserve.

  • edgardo

    nice report, sana, pagbalik mo doon, makunan mo ang buong kapaligiran ng mansyon, i mean, its neighboorhood and the interriors if possible, good luck then and god bless.

  • How I wish I could do so. May plano talaga akong bumaba ng Sharrif Aguak at Dalican Proper (Datu Odin Sinsuat town proper) sa susunod na pagbalik ko. May pangamba pero parang gusto ko kasing kunan ang mga bayan…lalo na ang DOS, I find their plaza interesting. :D

  • IQTestWebsite.net

    yes that road is very dangerous

  • [...] I myself was stunned by the event. That same highway that I passed in 2005 (read my article on my 2005 trip at Maguindanao) was the same highway that the convoy was intercepted. I got numb when some of Tacurong City Hall [...]

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