Cotabato Chronicle: Impressions of the City Old and New


I just explored Central Mindanao with my backpack. My list for one-week journey included the old city, Lake Sebu and Gensan. I later realized that their distance covers the whole region of SOCCSKSARGEN. Many Filipinos are afraid to come here because the province is highly militarized. Warlords and politicians with their mercenary armies are famous for kidnap-for-ransom activities as well as massacre acts such as the Ampatuan Massacre in Maguindanao. My family has no money for ransom and I still have many dreams that I want to live longer. So, why did I take this trip? I just hold on to the belief that not all Filipinos are like our militaries and politicians.

Ahlan Wasahlan! Welcome to Cotabato Airport

I arrived at lunchtime but was too excited to go around that I forgot to eat first in nearby canteens. Besides, I did not like the epal tarpaulins of marines as well as the actual sight of men in uniform showing off their guns to crowds of women in veils waiting for relatives at the gate. I was hoping I could get DOT brochures, map and orientation but there was none at the airport. I contemplated for a while and composed my itinerary. I just followed the rest of passengers, many of whom I suppose were locals. Many took the jeepney. Others took the multi-cab. I thought of taking one but the driver recommended me to a single motorbike if I would be touring around.

Two Samaritans negotiated with the driver for me. It helps that I understand Visayan so I was able to negotiate too. I closed a pakyaw ride for P400 half-day. I was not sure whether this was too low or too high but I would learn later that single motorbike ride in this town is the most expensive public ride because of the gas it exhausts that one ride to the nearest market may cost P40. Kuya driver who also became my guide showed me his ID. I wanted to tell him I’m not some police or sundalo. I did not mind really but it seems that here, it was a routine and a necessary gesture.


Courtesy with Sultan Hadji Hassanal Bolkiah Masjid

Ideally, I wanted to experience the Grand Mosque in sunset worship but my guide insisted we go there as early as 1PM because it was nearest to Awang Airport and that according to him, it was safer to go while it’s not yet dark. I trust Kuya knew best.

The mosque is located in Brgy. Kalanganan and can be seen from the plane window as you touchdown Cotabato. Built as an initiative of the Dilangalen clan with funding from current Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei Darussalam, the mosque claims as being the grandest in the country that can accommodate more than 1,000 people. In scorching noon, staying at the mosque was a breather with fresh air shared by the greenery around and by the historic Tamontaka River which was used as entry point of Spanish colonizers in 14th century.


A bunch of cute Muslim kids were playing in the halls while their father or uncle were asleep. Women were there exchanging stories and helping a visitor like me in taking photos by leading me where to get the best angles. Outside, elder women were selling their fresh harvest of clams. As I left, two cars of domestic and foreign visitors arrived.

The Old Capitol, People’s Palace and ARMM Complex


The Old Provincial Capitol or former government office is located in the town plaza. Its façade features Maranao okir design of veins and flowers. It is sadly now occupied by Marines and is not open to the public.

Cotabato People's Palace

The quite new city government plaza built during the administration of Datu Muslimin Sema was inaugurated in 2006. Its interior resembles Quezon City Hall except for the okir design and presence of armies.

ARMM Complex in Cotabato

The ARMM complex, site of most government offices located in Brgy. Rosary Heights was closed when I went there. The night before, it declared a holiday over radio and my guide could not explain what the holiday was all about. I was hoping I could still visit the Cotabato Museum, the Regional Museum and Library and the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Center. Again, soldiers guarded its gate.

Kutawato Cave (Kutang Bato)

Kutawato Cave (Kutang Bato)

Cotabato is the corrupted version of local term Kutawatu, also spelled Kutawato and the Malay term Kotabatu (kota means fortress and batu means stone). The Kutawato cave that lies in Pedro Colina Hill or PC Hill and stretches to Brgy. Awang was ones used as refuge of Moro people against Spanish colonizers. It is now occupied by Marines who annoy visitors by getting their names and private information in the same way as spammers and online syndicates would irritate your innocent exploration. Generally, the PC Hill is converted as settlement for Philippine army and their families. In fact, the Philippine Army 6th Infantry Division has their own cantons in the city and in nearby provinces. I feel this is bastardization of history wherein the legendary cave is turned from being a symbolic marker of sovereignty to a house of civil liberties offenders. I could just imagine how civilians go through everyday of their lives under military rule despite the MILF-GPH Framework Agreement for the Bangsamoro.

Salute to Sultan Dipatuan Kudarat (1590-1671)

Sultan Kudarat Monument in Cotabato City

I encountered the sultan at the plaza near PC Hill. I am aware of his bust and monument at Manila and Makati as well as of the province named after him. I wonder though whether a serious biographical film was ever produced of the national hero.

A direct descendant of Islam missionary Shariff Muhammed Kabungsuwan from Arab-Malay ethnicity, Sultan Kudarat served as the 7th sultan of Maguindanao from 1619 until his death of old age. Known as Corralat and Qudarat in Spanish chronicles, his sultanate extended from the Pulangi Region to provinces of modern Davao, Cotabato, Zamboanga, Cagayan de Oro, Caraga, Misamis and Bukidnon.

A defender of land and religious rights, he was an example of a leader who was consistent in fighting for liberty and democratic cause. Since the conquest of Spain in Mindanao, he and his warriors fought for the people. Defeated in 1637 by Spanish Governor General Corcuera’s armada, he conducted guerrilla warfare and forged a tribal pact with the sultanate of Sulu and other sultans in modern Mindanao. Through traditional kali and silat offensive (martial arts with aid of knife), Muslim warriors won. Spanish colonizers left their fort in Zamboanga by 1663 thereby surrendering to recognize the leadership of Sultan Kudarat and his territories.

Now his monument is flanked by streamers about peace talks and the defense of Filipino’s claim to Sabah while children play around the park perhaps oblivious to the conflicts going-on. I believe if Sultan Kudarat in his monument could speak now, he will tell the Bangsamoro to hold on to a principled struggle.#

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About Joanna Lerio

cultural journalist, multidisciplinary artist, educator, traveller, dreamer, yogini, vegetarian, advocate
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3 Responses to Cotabato Chronicle: Impressions of the City Old and New

  1. Pingback: Cotabato Chronicle: Cultural Exchange with T’boli Indigenous People | ISLANG MALAYA

  2. Pingback: Cotabato Chronicle: Gensan by Day | ISLANG MALAYA

  3. Pingback: Cotabato from the Sky | ISLANG MALAYA


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