It was a lightning rush tour—seemingly opposing my “local integration” with just sightseeing. Kulang sa time. It’s a good thing I was accompanied by locals Chris and Jam along the way in this city that is still alien to me.
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.
Cotabato City wasn’t really on my itinerary on my vacation in Gensan-Soccsksargen since it is too far AND a lot of things have changed since 2009 (refer to Maguindanao Massacre). Yet what caught my attention was the tweet from a good friend of mine who worked in ORC-Cotabato City. She said that there was this big golden mosque being constructed in Cotabato that was partly funded by the Sultan Bolkiah himself—big enough to be called perhaps the largest masjid ever constructed in the Philippines. And more confirmations came in, and even the people at Cotabato City Tourism Office recommended me to go there. Now, that caught my attention to go back to Cotabato City, six years after I last visited it.
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.
It was estrangely alluring to me to go to Cotabato City…a place evade[book id='' /]d by many people who have no business with the place or even paranoid tourists and travelers. And speaking of paranoia, whenever this place is mentioned, fear and pessimism occupies everyone outside of Mindanao. Its a no-man’s land, or in this case, a city. Negative impressions were imprinted in this city of more than 100,000. It was the capital of the Empire Province of Cotabato, once the largest province in the counrty. A city with rich history and pride. The Stone Fortress of Mindanao. (more…)
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