A large “Cotabato City” sign in white letters greets visitors passing the intersection of Sinsuat and Notre Dame Avenues. And on a bright sunny day, the colorful houses and buildings behind it evoke a feeling of hope and progress.
This beautification project, inspired by the colorful mural painted on the hillside residences in Barangay Balili in La Trinidad, Benguet, was initiated by the city government under Mayor France Cynthia Guani and the Department of Tourism Region 12 starting January this year.
The design consists of guinakit (Muslim bancas), gongs, and crabs to symbolize the city’s culture and resources, and spreads out to the series of structures at this side of Pedro Colina Hill.
The city’s history
Muslim traders in the early 16th century brought Islam from Sulu and converted many tribal inhabitants in this river delta, where the Rio Grande de Mindanao (Pulangi River) and Tamontaka River empties into Yllana Bay.
Those who refused conversion transferred to the surrounding mountains with the formal establishment of the Sultanate of Maguindanao and Kota Watu became the capital.
For the next 200 years, the sultanate thrived with Sultan Dipatuan Kudarat, the seventh ruler, contributing greatly to its expansion. It encompassed a vast area in Mindanao stretching from what is now Zamboanga to Davao, and Sarangani in the south and up to the province of Misamis under his sphere of influence.
The eruption of Makaturing Volcano in the 18th century, in what is now Lanao del Sur, signaled the weakening of the Maguindanao Sultanate, with the way of life of the inhabitants from Lanao Lake down to Yllana Bay threatened.
It eventually collapsed at the end of Spanish colonization. When the Americans came, the Chinese mestizo Datu Piang was made governor of what was then called Moroland, the Empire Province of Cotabato. From 1920 until 1967, it was the provincial capital. It became the administrative center of Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao when Maguindanao became a separate province in 1973. Since the ‘90s, Cotabato City is part of the SocSarGen region.
A thriving economic center
Cotabato City is known for its thousand hectares of fish ponds producing mud crabs, milkfish, and prawn. It has several industries ranging from manufacturing (furniture) to production (food and food processing).
A ride from Awang Airport to the city center used to be a pleasant but short trip. Now, traffic builds up at the intersection of Sinsuat and Gov. Gutierrez Avenues where several commercial establishments, malls, and restaurants are present.
In its bid to become a major halal food manufacturing hub in the region, a Class AA slaughterhouse, the only one in Mindanao, was built in Barangay Kalanganan II. To support this bid, a new seaport is being developed at the foot of Timako Hill along the shores of Yllana Bay.
If re-elected, Mayor Guaini said she will still prioritize peace and order so that more investments will come in. “In that way, I will be generating more jobs for my people.”
The flavors of Cotabato
The food scene in Cotabato is lively and varied. With the influx of national brand malls, comes other national restaurant and fast food franchises. But the local food scene is alive and strong.
First and foremost, Maguindanaoan food is almost everywhere. The tasty pastil, rice topped with shredded chicken adobo then rolled inside a sheet of banana leaf, makes for a good introduction. The kalintubo is sublime: chunky chicken adobo on top of rice then wrapped with banana leaves with a portion of the meat peeking out on top. It’s a popular breakfast, lunch, and dinner fare.
Desserts, meanwhile, come in the form of dodol, a softer version of the Maranao dudul (known as calamay in other parts of the Philippines). It is a sweet and sticky treat often packaged inside folded banana leaf squares. Tinagtag, made from rice flour and sugar is another popular dessert in the city.
Cotabato City has a number of local restaurants and cafés. For starters, the barbecue joints, especially lively at night near the Rizal Park in Sinsuat Ave., is a must for the budget conscious, what with several grilled meats from various vendors lining the road. Babo Katips in Tamontaka is popular for its fried hito (catfish). Hala Bira Halal Food along Jose Lim St. for its papaitan and bulalo.
Going around the city
Although rich in culture and history, the tourist attractions in Cotabato City are rather limited. Foremost, perhaps is the stunning Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque in Barangay Kalanganan II. Financed by the Bruneian Sultan, it is the largest mosque in the Philippines and is also known as the Grand Mosque of Cotabato.
The Old Cotabato City Hall Museum is a repository of the city’s history and culture with its interesting Maguindanao-inspired architecture designed by National Artist for Architecture Juan Arellano in the 1940s. On display are the different tribal weaves with samples of the different cloths. There are also archival images of the city and those taken after the earthquake in 1976.
The Church of the Immaculate Concepcion in Tamontaka, or simply, Tamontaka Church was the center of Jesuit evangelization in the late 19th century, and the original structure was built in 1872 along the banks of the Tamontaka River. The edifice has a simple façade. The original structure was damaged in an earthquake (1976) and got burned in 1994 but was rebuilt in the same year.
The People’s Palace, a mix of neo-classic and Muslim motifs, with its imposing architecture is a sight to look at!
The Office of the Regional Governor Complex, located at the end of Gov. Gutierrez Ave. is the administrative compound of the ARMM within the 32-hectare area. The central building, with its beautiful architecture has a series of arcades around the structure with Muslim motifs especially in the roof. The area is where the Pakarajaan Festival is usually held from April to December.
One of only two high elevations in Cotabato City, Pedro Colina Hill or PC Hill has a network of underground caves under it. Although its possible to visit, the caves are currently being rehabilitated.
The Sinsuat Avenue side of the hill is becoming a point of interest because of the aforementioned colorful houses and structures. Also, at the foothill is Tantawan Park where a golden colored sculpture of Sultan Kudarat is erected. One can also have a short and cheap massage here.
Where to stay
Al Nor Hotel and Convention Center is perhaps the best one in Cotabato City right now. It’s along Sinsuat Ave. within the Alnor Commercial Center. EM Manor Hotel and Convention Center is another good alternative.
Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific services Cotabato City from Manila (both airlines), Cebu and Zamboanga City (Cebu Pacific). Within Mindanao, there’s a good network of buses and van transport that can readily connect visitors to anywhere in the island be it Zamboanga City, Cagayan de Oro City, GenSan, or Davao City.
Photos by Estan Cabigas
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