*We were in the Cotabato region when the Maguindanao Encounter happened. We had to pass by several Maguindanao towns the day before the unfortunate incident. Part of the purpose of this blog, among other things, is to encourage others to travel to these wonderful destinations in the Philippines, but please do assess the situation in Mindanao before making any plans.
My friend Jao invited me to join his other friends to a trip to Asik-Asik Falls and Lake Sebu. Since these are in provinces I still had not visited, I immediately said yes and booked a round trip ticket to General Santos which was going to be our entry and exit point.
I am used to making reservations in advance but Jao warned me that this was going to be an entirely backpacking trip. I was just going to tag along so I did not make any itinerary. Except for reading a post about Asik-Asik Falls, I did not check anything else. I did not even bother to look at a map so I had no idea we were passing by some interesting places.
I arrived in Cebu before 8am where I was going to meet Jao and his friends to take the flight to GenSan. I was in a sort of a dilemma because my bank was offline for several hours and I had no idea whether my money was available or not. I had already resigned to spending a penniless trip with people I just met. Good thing the bank went back online when we arrived in GenSan.
When we got to GenSan, we boarded a van going to the bus terminal of Husky bus. We paid P350 for the van that accommodated all six of us.
Fare for the Husky bus was P300 going to Cotabato City. The van nearby was only charging P250 with fewer stops along the way. So we decided to take the van.
We had to pass by several Maguindanao towns including those that we often hear in the news such as Shariff Aguak and Datu Unsay. While I was not extremely scared, I couldn’t help but get nervous each time the van we were on was stopped to pay something. That was exactly how I pictured those who were just passing by when they were unfortunately became casualties in November 2009.
After almost four hours (or maybe that was three hours, I couldn’t recall exactly), we reached Cotabato City.
Cotabato City is an interesting city, at least for me. It is geographically part of Maguindanao but is not politically part of the province. It is also the regional center of ARMM but is not under the jurisdiction of the region. It is also not part of either North or South Cotabato but is grouped in the same region, SOCCSKSARGEN, with them. For this blog’s purposes, I have filed this post under Maguindanao.
We alighted in front of the bus terminal of Husky. We then stopped by a store to get something to eat. My companions bought pastil, a rice dish common in Cotabato that is topped with chicken strips and wrapped in a banana leaf. It just cost P7 but it was enough to get you full. That is rice after all. At that time, I still wasn’t that hungry so I just bought a few sticks of barbecue.
We then hired three habal-habals, two people on each habal-habal, to take us to the Grand Mosque. I did not have any knowledge about this mosque beforehand so it was quite a surprise to see how grand it was indeed.
There were a few things prohibited inside the mosque:
I was wearing shorts and did not bring any pair of pants so this warning worried me when I saw it. But then we were told that this was not being strictly enforced and we could still go in. The caretaker however asked our female companion to wear pants because they might get in trouble if she would be seen on the CCTV. We men were allowed to wear shorts. I’m a self-proclaimed male feminist so this got me quite uncomfortable but I thought against saying anything.
The Grand Mosque was constructed under the funding of the Sultan of Brunei, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. Thus, its official name is Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Masjid.
We were supposed to see the sunset there but it was a little cloudy. Then we were told that the trip going to Midsayap, where we were staying overnight, was at 6pm and since it was already past 5pm, we had to hurry. We found out later on that the last trip wasn’t at 6pm.