Let’s forget about the violence or the unrest that Cotabato City is known for. This post will sum up what I have posted about this much maligned city and would focus on things you could see and do. While I could say that this city, found at the heart of Mindanao, locked between Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao, is generally safe, caution is still recommended and I would suggest to ask assistance at the local tourism office.
If one would imagine Cotabato City solely from how media paints it to be, I would picture people cowering in fear hiding in their homes, areas devastated by bomb blast or probably a war zone (now that is exaggerating a bit). But being there is different. I didn’t have heightened alarms ringing in my head like when I was in Basilan during an election period, and I see people, families happily going around the street. Yes there are military check points for safety purposes but threats to security won’t stop this city from developing, especially with the people striving for a change. With the old structures are new establishments changing the way Cotabateños live.
Many would be familiar with the ancient musical instrument kulintang, consisting of rows of graduated pots laid horizontally in ascending pitch. We admire at its sound that have graced cultural presentations, yet are we aware of how it was made? Kulintang, gongs and even the elaborate designs of a Muslim jar are brasswares popularly made in Mindanao, particularly the oldest city in the region, Cotabato City. I visited Baranggay Kalanganan for the Cotabato Maguindanao Brassware Association Incorporated to see how a community painstakingly continues an age-old tradition, dating back to the Sultanate days, of making high quality brassware.
“This one took me about 2 weeks to finish” the woman weaver told me as she showed a golden angular pattern on a clean white sheet. The pattern is called sugkip, a tipas (slanting) design touted as the most complicated of Inaul Weaving designs that it takes 2-3 people to weave. I inspected the pattern in awe as I ponder its intricacies. Cotabato City may not have much in terms of natural attractions but cultural products such as the Inaul, a Maguindanaon hand-woven fabric, is particularly sought-after for its quality and beauty.
Without any vast lands to cultivate in this small Cotabato City, Trade and Commerce is the main livelihood in the city. With its strategic location, found at the heart of Mindanao, it is easy to travel to different points of Mindanao from the city, making it a popular transit and drop-off point for goods before bringing them to other areas. Staying at Don Rufino St, near and Parallel, Matampay River, a tributary of Rio Grande River, I visited the riverside “Bagsakan (drop-off)” and discovered a lively market scene filled with a splash of local colors.
Wandering around the streets of Cotabato City, It’s easy to assume that the city is predominantly a Muslim country with many minarets and crescent moons from Mosques jutting out from the city skyline. In fact, if it weren’t for the Hijab (women’s headscarf), it’s hard to tell whether one is Muslim or Christian. Both religions have been deeply intermingled since the birth of Muslim and Christianity in Mindanao. The Tamontaka Church, the oldest church in the city, stands in testimony on the harmonious co-existence of both religions.
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.