Never judge a place by its reputation. Cotabato City is one such place that has been marred by negative publicity it constantly gets – bomb blast, kidnapping, corruption and political strife. It’s a prime candidate for an episode of Don’t Tell My Mother in National Geographic. I can’t deny these things happen, in fact the vice-mayor was ambushed a couple of weeks after my visit in the city. But all these things are not as bad as media painted it to be. It happens to any other place although amplified to an exaggerated degree. There’s also good news coming out of the region, the Masjid Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah or popularly called The Grand Mosque rose like a golden sun, inviting droves of tourist in this commonly misunderstood city.
One common misconception people have about Cotabato City is that it’s part of Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which is not. The ARMM office may be housed inside the city but Cotabato City is part of the SOCCSKSARGEN region. Not also to be confused with Cotabato (North) and South Cotabato.
Spotlight recently is on the US$ 45-million project, Masjid Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. A Grand Mosque sitting near the idle banks of Tamontaka River. It is partly founded by the Philippine Government and the Sultanate of Brunei to whom the Masjid was named, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. This magnificent mosque occupies 5000 square meters of a 5-hectare land. The four minarets stand at a towering 43-meter high (similar to a 15-story building). The grounds can also accommodate 800 male plus 400 female worshippers at any given time. With its scale, it is the largest mosque in the Philippines.
Some polishing up construction were being done during my visit. While it was soft-opened to the public for the Eid Al-Fitr (End of Rammadan) last 2011, where droves of Muslims set out on a pilgrimage to the Grand Mosque, it hasn’t officially opened yet. Visitors are welcome to roam the grounds at this time while final constructions are being made but visits would be limited when it opens and especially during prayer hours.
I admired the details on the windows, the white walls, the gray accent details, up to the golden painted crescent moon on top of the minarets. There’s a marked elegance in its simplicity in design. Despite being a Muslim place of worship, the architect and designers behind the mosque are Christians. How symbolic of two religions working together, much like the intermingling of beliefs in Cotabato City.
The Grand Mosque is becoming a major landmark in Cotabato City attracting different kind of tourist, not only Muslims to admire this magnificent structure. Going there is easy from downtown central. Ride a jeep heading to Awang and asked to be dropped at the Husky Bus Terminal the intersection. Tricycles there can take people to the mosque on a scenic 2-3km road parallel to Tamontaka River.
Talking to the Tourism People of Cotabato City, they are excited to take advantage of the popularity of the mosque. They know this is just the start and would be a great opportunity to showcase what other wonders and interesting things they have. Back in 1913, a lot of people from Luzon and Visayas migrated to Mindanao learning about its rich resources that the Philippine Government called the region, the Land of Promise. I think that title still holds true despite the adversaties it faces, especially Cotabato City.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.