Old Cotabato Provincial Capitol: Seat of the United Cotabato
Cotabato City was a bustling urban area, teeming with life and people from different places, speaking different languages. Moro, Kristyano and Lumad cultures mix and intermingle, creating a seemingly distinct culture in the heart of Mindanao. Amidst the hustle and bustle of the city, a white-washed edifice watches over the city like a sentinel. According to Simeon Millan’s book, 1952 Cotabato Guidebook, it was the “acropolis” that governed not just Cotabato City, but once the largest province in the country. It is the old Cotabato Provincial Capitol—half a century ago.
The old Cotabato Provincial Capitol sits beside PC Hill, overlooking downtown Cotabato City. During its heydays, it has an unobstructed view of the city. Because it was white-washed, it is indeed giving a majestic contrast on the lush greeneries surrounding it.
The capitol was finished in 1950, during the term of the governor Datu Duma Sinsuat, partly funded by the United States. It is made of concrete and wood, exhibiting neo-classical, international and folk architecture in one building. This two storey building has concrete pediment at its center with two “wings” and a veranda with the typical pointed roof, typical of Moro architecture. The capitol is reminiscent of the post-war government buildings that still incorporated the neo-classical style, although much streamlined and less detailed. A seal of the Philippine republic with cornucopia on both of its sides are found at its pediment.
At the lobby, you’ll be greeted by columns and a grand staircase with a relief map of Mindanao.
It was the seat of governance of “The Empire Province of Cotabato,” or undivided Cotabato for almost two decades, until rebellion sparked within Mindanao which triggered the division of the big province into Cotabato and South Cotabato, then later Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, and the latest is Sarangani–as an effect of the Tripoli Agreement. In January 1975, the capitol was transferred to the Central Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines–thus its headquarters. There was a short period of time that the capitol was used as office space for the city hall. When I went to Cotabato City in 2005, the tourism office and several other city government offices were once located here, before they transferred to the People’s Palace in 2009.
Today, only a few remember its grand past. Trees cover her, making her hidden and almost forgotten. Most of the locals even don’t know that this was a provincial capitol. Going here also requires permission from its current occupants–the military. The capitol, once the guardian of the city, now lies partially decaying and in need of renovation. Good news is that the east wing of the edifice has been renovated. The west wing however, is in dismal state. The facade needs some paint job I guess. Perhaps also, we can have the trees move away from the facade of the capitol, so that she can see the city skyline once more. My wish for AFP is that even if this is now a military possession, being a heritage site for the city, it should be taken care of.
I don’t know whether the local government of Cotabato City or the AFP is interested in placing a heritage marker of NHCP/NHI here, but I just hope that this edifice of a once united Cotabato, would be preserved for us to be reminded that despite our differences in religion and ethnicity–we should be united or live harmoniously, beating all odds. She may be small, humble, simple, and hidden if we compared it with the grand capitols and city halls in Mindanao, but she was the seat of the largest province the Philippine Republic has ever known.