A GATEWAY TO CENTRAL MINDANAO
It is now nearly 500 years when Shariff Kabunsuan made his landfall at Cotabato. If this progenitor of the Maguindanao dynasty could return to discover what has become of the twin settlements of Maguindanao and Slangan, the Shariff would probably find these places beyond recognition. In this capital, where once Sultan Qudarat held court the seat of the Cotabato city government stands an imposing town half. It has been written of this Building:
About half a century old structure in the city hall, which houses almost all the city government offices. It is considered one of then landmarks as well as a tourism spot of the city and it can boast of its unique and antique architectures, providing a fascinating study on the complexity of Maguindanao/Muslim art. It displays ornate, artistic, colorful and abstract configurations with emphasis one stylistic and geometrical patterns.
The city government is run by the city mayor (incumbent is Hon. Juan J. Ty.), by the city Board (Sangguniang Panlungsod) and is supported by an administrative machinery of the offices of the city treasurer, city auditor, city engineer, city assessor, city register of deeds, city court, city fiscal, city health, city superintendent of schools, commander of integrated national police. The city has a project and planning development office.
The biggest expenditure of the city government is for maintenance of the market and slaughterhouse. Police gets a fairly large share amounting to ore than a half a million pesos since 1975. For the last ten years, beginning CY 1965-1966 to 1974-1975 the total revenue has reached the one million mark. In 1965 the city generated an income of P 1,504,658.77 and by 1973 assumed a peak in receipts of P 4,894,996.85. And the revenue dropped by almost P 800,000.00. Business palling enterprises to establish branches in Davao City and Cagayan de Oro City.
Ethnic position in Cotabato has always fascinated observers. Ethnologically, the Chinese predated the Spaniards in coming to this place and remained constituting a commercial middle class. There are still descendants of Arab, American and Indian immigrants who will constitute a very small sector, the biggest ethnic group is still the indigenous Iranon Muslims, reflecting 36% of the population; next in rank is the immigrant Cebuano, comprising 26%; some 15% tagalog, 11% hiligaynons; ilocanos, maranaos, and chabacanos (origin from Zamboanga) compose the remaining 12%. In terms of economic roles, the Luzon migrants, excepting the boholanos vendors, are in barbershops, cottage industry, agriculture and domestic concerns. Maguindanao Muslims form a large percentage of the fishermen, stevedores, goldsmiths and some farmers. The more economically stable have antique shops, restaurants and lodging houses; others handle makeshift stalls; quite a few own and operate inter-island vessels and small rice mills. The Chinese also monopolizes commercial establishments, although some Christian natives have entered the grocery business. The city Project Planning and Development Office has at the conclusion that Cotabato ranks 14 in the hierarchy of commercial settlements and the mercantile economy far outweighs its agricultural base.
Ecological structure in the city has been determined by the pattern of occupational distribution and limited built-up areas. Chinese residents usually live on tenements located downtown above the stores they maintain. According to a study made by Chester Hunt in the late 1950’s, the earliest migrants (Chabacanos) who were descendants of soldiers and preside Rios were concentrated close by the river front along the west side of the town, which is Manday. Migrant professionals began to occupy the Rosary Heights. Maguindanao in the past were scattered in the outskirts of the town along the riverbanks and its estuaries. A number of Maguindanaon where active heavy concentrations of Maguindanaons where active indigenous life exist, so reminiscent of the quaint days of Cotabato. Intermixed communities today constitute Tamontaka, but this district has high growth potentials. Once the road to Biniroan and to Kakar will be completed residents will live on the San Vicente from Bagua towards Malagapas; it is likely to follow the same trend of expansion. The Tantawan, which was originally occupied by the company of Moro constabulary in 1906, has since referred to as PC or Colina Hill and dotted their houses of constabulary officers, enlisted personnel and their families. The CEMCOM has since 1973 started to improve the summit to Tantawan as it appears.
Cotabato city often gives visitors the impression that the place has little sense of leisurely way of living. The town proper is small in size but its charm lie in Maguindanao history and as roam the city street in about 24 hours as there is a total 0f 54.034 kilometers of 1st class concrete, 1st class asphalt and 2nd class asphalt and 2nd class gravel roads. Or a vehicle can take a short drive to nearby historic Sultan Kudarat town which features countryside life and drive all the way through green rolling scenery. The first class highway (13 km) leads as of the present to the scenic Polloc harbor at the town of Parang, Maguindanao, where multi million modern ports is under completion. Once completed the 44-meter wharf will be supported by a reclaimed area of 11,800 square meters for the development of warehousing, storage and other ancillary services.
For a brief coastline trip, one can be cruise back to Cotabato and approach the city from the Bucana (mouth of Pulangui) where payguan lies on the Sultan Kudarat side of the bank and Kalanganan on the city side of the channel. The boat enters the cut-off channel traversing the Tinunduan River where Shariff Kabunsuan and Rajah Tabunaway first met. Along the banks of Paidu Pulangui is strung picturesque Maguindanao Muslim houses which would soon give way to the proposed boulevard connecting the city proper and Timako Hill. A word about Timako Hill and Tantawan hill. Legends have it that both hills are connected by the cave at the foot of the Timako and Tantawan in what could have been a subterranean label of life which conjures up the shades of the ‘hollow earth’ club of the European societies. Timako is said to have been the sunken boat of one of Buntugan’s wives who is the legendary figure in the epic of the Maguindanao and Lanao. Anyway in reality Timako hills over looks the Illana sea-lane, which is naturally protected by Bongo Island and graced by the beach resorts of Linik, Kusiong and Tapian point and the Amadeo Beach. Timako itself makes good resort considering its blue waters and sandy white beach, and once made accessible can be very well become the Cotabato seashore park. The place was so ideal for camping, boating, swimming and fishing as well as location for excursions, picnic grounds and recreation.
Water sports and boat racing used to be the one of the popular attractions on the Pulagui River. The occasion usually coincides with the feast of Hariraya Puasa and Hariraya Haji (Arabic Eid-ul Eid –ul Haj). Not seen these days are Maguindanao traditional Guinakits (floating decorated boats), which delve on the historical merry making on the river system. A colorful pageantry, through celebrated only once was festivity to complement the inaugural day of the region with the coming of Shariff Kabunsuan re-enacted on the Pulangui River. It can very well developed to revive the merry making festival on the historical mood of Cotabato. Fire works was always a part of the celebration in the past.
In the same token, there is for many recollection of the festivity that pervaded the cultural life of Cotabato in the observance of the Immaculate Conception Day in December. It used to be that the different educational institutions and civic clubs contribute each program, every night for one week to entertain the people of the old Notre Dame Gymnasium. The festival coincided as it still does, with the Christmas season and a majority of the urban districts used to celebrate it with elaborate preparations for the holiday Revelry likewise welcome the coming of the New Year amidst fireworks.
In retrospect, Cotabato has had its share of a colorful mood, and enriching cultural life. One recalls to mind hosting of the Third National Muslim Congress in 1953, and there was one moment that represented a converging of people from all walks of life into Rizal Park. The people have done it before and there are still many celebrations to come, which are tuned to both Islamic and Christian traditions of hospitality. Merry making, graciousness and the bright side of life. And many came to spend their holidays, as we foresee others will come to such a cultural revival. Cotabato is endowed with a balmy climate. The weather here is generally characterized by more or less an even distribution of rainfall throughout the year with varying the temperature from 76.63 inches to 94.88 inches in the province which gives a fairly good amount of share to the city.
The city is not bereft of convenient facilities today. The local telephone system, comparable to many in the country, serves 1,500 single lines and ties to the Philippine Long Distance Company. The to telegraph stations (RCPI and PT & T) also serves long distance telephone calls to many parts of the country. The city has also a good number of relatively comfortable hotels and restaurants catering superb seafood’s: it is for certain noted for its ‘pigek’ (a fish which spawns in the brackish part of the Pulangui). One samples native cookies “tinagtag” to the sipping of the native black coffee for only a minimal cost. Cotabato has places of worship for different denominations. There is the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in the poblacion, and the catholic churches at Almonte street and at Rosary Heights Tamontaka still has its old mission church, already described earlier. For Muslims, there are relatively impressive mosques at Lugay-Lugay section, along Mabini Street, the super market site, and a recent addition at the regional government center. Just across the Pulangui River at Banubo is the century-old Sultan Kudarat. As for the other religious denominations, there is the modern Iglesia ni Cristo Church, the Evangelical Church fronting the Rizal Park, Epicospalian Church, etc. Besides those church mentioned there are still others in many of the clustered settlements.
Historic choice of Cotabato city as the focal pint of the rationalization process has restored it to its past role in administration. Establishment of the regional commission was an original concept under reorganization Plan No. 53-A wherein the country was divided into 8 regions. As envisioned then Cotabato would have been dependent on Davao City as the growth center. The situation in Central Mindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi pursuant to P.D. 742 mandated the policy direction.
In order to make effective budgetary process as an instrument of regional government LOI No. 447 and No. 448 were issued. The latter has completed of the development of the regional government centers; administrative capabilities of the line agencies of government is worked out by the former Ho. Simeon A. Datumanong was appointed in September 1975 to become inn the history of the regional commission, its commissioner and as such the first pioneer personal representative of the president in the region. The central Mindanao command, which had its headquarters at Tantawan, has occupied the former provincial historic capitol building. Its first commanding general, Maj. General Fortunato Abat, is now the chief of staff of the army; AFP the present Cemcom Commanding General is Brig. Gen. Delfin C. Castro.
When our visitors come to Cotabato City, it will become obvious why our people live very normal lives in the wake of all negatives images concurred up elsewhere. Although the city is in the midst of urban renewal, while destroying many of its landmarks in the process, there are still historic structures preserved for everyone, including tourist.