Cotabato City. Just the mere mention of the name brings fear to the people of Manila (bakit kasi ganon mga Manileno?). Pictures of bombing and war come to mind, very unfair for the city which is still called “The Promise Land.” Contrary to popular belief, Cotabato City is a friendly city, I went inside the ARMM regional center and all I see are people, Muslims, smiling at me while I take photos around the place. I never experienced any fear even if I going there means passing by Maguindanao.
“Contrary to popular belief, Cotabato City is a friendly city…”
I was actually surprised when I heard the locals speak Tagalog, or Tagalized Ilonggo with some Visayan injections. After being in the Visayas and Mindanao for more than a month (this during the 100 days journey around the PH), I was relieved that finally I can use my mother dialect in communicating with the locals.
“I was actually surprised when I heard the locals speak Tagalog, or Tagalized Ilonggo…”
Cotabato City got its name from its iconic “Kutang Bato” in Tagalog or “Kota Wato” in Malay (Kota as “fortress” and Wato as “stone”), literally translated “Fort of Stone;” which was a natural fortifications that protected the city from generations to generations.
Cotabato City should not be confused with the provinces of North Cotabato and South Cotabato because by looking at the map it was once under Maguindanao. Going further into history, Cotabato City prides herself as the center of the Sultanate of Maguindanao and its golden age during the reign of Sultan Kudarat. You can read more of this on my previous article: Sultan Kudarat, a province and a hero.
“Cotabato City should not be confused with the provinces of North Cotabato and South Cotabato…”
Continuing with my story, I was lucky enough to join the touring VIPs from Bangladesh when I was there during my 100-day journey. As always, I visited the tourism office and met Sir Benjie Abarca who is the head of the tourism department of the city. He then let me in to join the small group of Bangladeshi VIPs who were touring the city too. These Bangladeshi visitors were not afraid of Cotabato City, I wonder why my fellow Pinoys are?
“These Bangladeshi visitors were not afraid of Cotabato City, I wonder why my fellow Pinoys were?”
The tourism office is housed inside the People’s Palace which is also serves as the city hall. The People’s Palace so aptly named stands proud and grand when photographed when the sun is still on the east. The striking blue sky is highlighted with the pure white facade of the palace. This great piece of architecture I would is of Indo-Islamic design which touches of Greek because of the presence of the four big columns in the middle of the building.
From the People’s Palace, we toured on a bus going to the Old Cotabato Capitol, which is now being used by the Philippine Marines. The elaborate design on its roof caught my eye and I was just glad that they didn’t brought this down. This architectural design served as a reminder when I saw torogan houses in Marawi City. Look at those capiz windows and intricate patterns on the roof, it is called okir, or geometric and flowing designs usually based in leaf or vine patterns heavily used by the Maranaos in their artwork.
“Okir is a geometric and flowing designs usually based in leaf or vine patterns heavily used by the Maranaos…”
We then went to Sultan Kudarat Shrine. Sultan Kudarat or Muhammad Dipatuan Kudarat is the greatest Sultan of Maguindanao, the most powerful Sultan of Mindanao. His rule is felt even as far as the Visayas during the mid-17th century.
“Sultan Kudarat is the greatest Sultan of Maguindanao, the most powerful Sultan of Mindanao”
From the monument we passed by Kutang Bato, which I said earlier this city is named after. This is the only cave in the Philippines that is located in the heart of the city. An important natural edifice that protected the locals when the Spaniards tried to conquer them and convert this into Christianity. This also served to be useful as both armory and garrison and when the guerillas hid here during the Japanese-Filipino war.
“Kutang Bato in Cotabato City the only cave in the Philippines that is located in the heart of the city”
Talking about the Japanese-Filipino war, a shrine in honor of a Japanese Provincial Commander Takumi Butai assigned in Cotabato City. Before he died, he requested that his some of his ashes be buried in the city. This is now a monument for him and the Japanese soldiers who died in battle in Cotabato City.
I love seeing these places up close and personal but our guide brought us to see the city form another perspective. I forgot the exact name but we traveled around 20minutes going up towards a cliff and was treated with this view of the city:
Going back, we dropped by Camp BGen Gonzalo Siongco which is the Headquarters on the 6th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army.
And to cap it all, one must not miss the Masjid Sultan Hassnal Bolkiah or The Grand Mosque. To say that it was grand and huge is an understatement, it is humuguous, I was dwarfed and it felt like I was in a different country. When I posted the photo of it on my Facebook, I got comments such as “that’s in Brunei” or “Malaysia” etc. Even my friends can’t believed that it can be found in the Philippines. The mosques is perfectly placed by the river facing the east but I see the stark contrast of the grandiosity of the mosque and the small wooden-houses where we passed by on our way to the masjid.
“Even my friends can’t believed that it [Masjid Sultan Hassnal Bolkiah] can be found in the Philippines”
The richness of Cotabato City can’t be questioned as can be seen by the presence of innumerable banks including Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. I’m actually surprised that there is no SM, Robinsons or Gaisano in this productive city. I hope it stays like that.
How did I get to Cotabato City?
I rode a non-AC bus from Isulan, Sultan Kudarat going to Cotabato City passing by the towns on Maguindanao. Alternatively, you can also find vans from Kabacan, North Cotabato that goes to Cotabato City.
There are also vans that goes to Cotabato City from GenSan City or Davao City.
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I visited Cotabato during Days 62 and 63 of my 100 Days Journey around the Philippines. Thank you to Sir Benjie Abarca for being so generous of allowing me to tour with the foreign visitors when I was there.
#ISANGDAAN is a personal journey and challenge to backpack around the Philippines the cheapest way possible for 100 days. The book “ISANGDAAN” will be out soon!
If you want to follow my steps, I have an interactive map- ISANGDAAN Journey map.