FirstDibs by Amor Maclang • Published 28 April 2019

Mother of the Bangsamoro shows us its heart

(Note: This article first appeared on Amor’s Business Mirror column “The Tourism Advocate,” February 17, 2019.) As everyone’s talking about love, let me share with you the one place that I have so much love for—Mindanao. And with my recent visits lately, Cotabato or Kutawato has easily and effortlessly charmed itself into my heart. There is so much to love about Cotabato that I hope people would know.

With the recent passing of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), I feel that it has become inevitable to share my secret love, Cotabato, to the rest of the Philippines and to the rest of the world.

What can love and peace bring to a place, a region, a country should it thrive and really given a chance? First District of Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra Sema, one of the main proponents of the BOL, recently led a Philippine delegation to Saudi Arabia, with them is the sheer hope that through their presentation they (the businessmen), too, would realize that there is more to BARMM than meets the eye.

After two days, they were able to get investment pledges for Cotabato City and other Bangsamoro provinces from these businessmen.

I never tire of going to Cotabato. Every visit still feels like the first time. Bodies of water and land merge to form unique natural scenic spots perfect for ecotourism. The land also thrives in excellent strategic spaces perfect for commerce. And now that the BOL has been passed, peace is imminent, which completes the environment to becoming an Asean City whose reach is no longer merely local but regional.

The Beauty Within The BAI WALK at the Tomantaka River. The Bai Walk is fast-becoming the hangout place of many Cotabato folk and is fast evolving into a tourist destination. Perfect for that lazy long walks or an afternoon tea during balmy afternoons and a perfect spot, as well, for al fresco dinner. Soon, it will house restaurants, coffee shops, souvenir shops and retail stores. Your perfect spot beside the tranquil waters while watching the sunset. At the heart of the river is a small islet called the Bongo Island that will showcase a mini mosque or a replica of the golden Grand Mosque, which will become the main tourist draw of a river cruise.

Timako Hill. The hill stands along the coast in Barangay Kalanganan II fronting the majestic Sultan Haji Hassanal Masjid. One of only two elevated areas in Cotabato City where trees are preserved and protected, home to several species of monkeys, birds, bats and other flora and fauna, this is a perfect ecotourism destination for nature lovers. Sports enthusiasts like mountain climbers, trekkers and adventure-seekers can also enjoy the hill because of its natural trail that zigzags along springs, rock formations and towering trees.

Nothing short of the ocean experience, Cotabato boasts of the Amaya Beach Resort, approximately 30 minutes away from Cotabato City. Groomed to be a prime tourist destination, it offers room accommodation, cottages or tent for options, kayaking, fly fishing, banana boat and a must-try experience—a 20-foot diving board and other fun beach activities. At the back of the resort is the panoramic view of majestic Mount Minandar and Mount Bilalaan. This place is perfect getaway from the city. And, of course, the center of the Muslim religion and culture is the Grand Mosque—the largest mosque in the Philippines and is also the second-largest mosque in Southeast Asia after the Istiqlal Mosque of Indonesia. An annual Bangsamoro Festival will be celebrated in the Grand Mosque, which will showcase the Bangsamoro culture and religion.

It will also be the site of a yearly pilgrimage of Muslims from the Asean region, which will also be open to tourists from different countries who want to observe the Islamic rituals.

What the Future Holds Halal Economic Zone. The global markets are ready for halal products patronized by both Muslim and non-Muslim countries in Europe, North America and Asia. With a huge existing market, the potential for a global halal trade is growing slowly but surely, and the Philippines aims to be at the forefront of halal propagation in Southeast Asia.

There is a proposed measure in the Philippine House of Representatives to create a Halal Economic Zone and Free Port in Cotabato City. This aims to promote and develop the halal industry in partnership with private or public groups, and investors both local and foreign.

Cotabato Air and Sea Ports. The airport will be able to handle direct flights from other countries, as well as domestic flights. Like its counterparts in the country, a duty-free mall will be built and made available for both local and international tourists, also included are other retail stores of a mix of local and global brands. Beside the airport, a modern airport hotel will rise and will cater to business travelers and tourists alike.

The new seaport will be the trade center for Bangsamoro. There will be a world-class halal fisher’s market area. An aquaculture park that features the 33 rivers of Maguindanao that converge in the area, making the aquaculture very unique, will also be built nearby. Tourists will have a chance to see fishes and other sea creatures that are endemic to Cotabato City. There will also be guided river cruise tours in the aquaculture park.

So, what does love and peace can do to a place, a region, a country? Progress, economic growth and the lasting peace where love thrives and humanity can be one with each other. In my next trip to Cotabato it would again be a different picture of the region. One of love, peace and progress, all thanks to the people, the movement, the advocacies that is BOL—Bangsamoro of Love!

The Bai Walk along the Tamontaka River, your perfect spot for sunset-watching.

The Grand Mosque

The Mindanao River, also known as the Rio Grande of Mindanao, is the major waterway in Mindanao used for trading and transporting seafoods and other products to nearby provinces.